The history of the female accountant in Australia

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The history of the female accountant in Australia

Determined, smart women fought a successful battle to be recognised as accounting professionals. Explore their fight for recognition in Australia and place in the history of CPA Australia. 


1899 August  Mr J Fenton submits a request on behalf of his sister, seeking to sit the Incorporated Institute of Accountants, Victoria (IIAV) examinations.
1899 September The IIAV Council calls a special meeting of members to vote on the question. Six councillors speak in favour of the admission of women to examinations and membership, and one against.

No is the resounding vote, 69 to 26.
1900 September  Miss Fenton applies to sit for the IIAV October examinations. The matter is deferred to 18 October meeting, making it too late for consideration.
1902 Federal Institute of Accountants “As far as can be ascertained, one lady had the temerity to apply for admission as a member during 1902, but the minutes show that the Secretary was instructed to inform her that ‘under no circumstances could the application be considered’.”
1906 March  Miss Garbutt of Ballarat seeks membership of IIAV. It is decided that in light of the 1899 vote, that an application from a woman cannot be accepted. 
1908 June Mr Peart submits a membership request on behalf of his daughter. The matter is twice deferred and rejected on the same grounds as Miss Garbutt’s.
1911 February Miss Creaton applies for membership. This is rejected on same grounds as the 1899 vote, however it opens the debate and gives rise to the second referendum of the IIAV, on the matter of women being admitted to membership.
1912 February, Western Australia The Institute of Accountants and Auditors in Western Australia (IAAWA) passes a motion at its AGM, allowing women to be admitted as members. 

The motion “provoked considerable discussion and was eventually passed by a large majority: - That it is desirable that the articles and by-laws of the institute should be so amended as to allow ladies to site for the examinations of the institute, and to be admitted as members when duly qualified”.
1912 May, Victoria A motion is passed regarding the admission of women. It is defeated 101 to 202.
1912 October Miss Mary Addison Hamilton, Addie, sits the IAAWA exams.
1914 September  The Student’s Society – those studying to sit the IIAV exams – votes to accept women members.

Miss Irene Dorothy Bourn passes the IIAV bookkeepers examination, the other three candidates fail.
1915 March  Miss Evelyn Maud West is admitted to examinations and exempted from the preliminary exam.
1915 August Miss Irene Dorothy Bourn is admitted to examinations and exempted from the preliminary exam.
1915 October Addie Hamilton sits for the IAAWA* examinations, gaining second place.

The West Australian reports that the IAAWA: “…welcomes Miss Hamilton as a member…she being the first lady to gain that distinction in this state”, then mentions she won the prize for the best essay on The History of an executor and trustee under a will.”
1916 February  Due to the shortage of skilled personnel arising through enlistments in the armed services, the IIAV Council votes to permit women to sit for the examinations. The vote carries unanimously, with the condition that women who pass the exams are still ineligible for membership.
1916 December Miss Evelyn Maud West and Miss Irene Dorothy Bourn pass the final examination. Of the 246 female candidates who sit the examination, only 143 pass.
1917 February The Herald reports “Miss I D Bourn can claim to be the first woman licensed auditor under the Companies Act, as she has just passed the Companies Auditors Board examinations... Miss Bourn in October last obtained the premium position at the final examination of the IIAV”.
July  The IIAV AGM gives notice regarding the “Admission of women: It is felt that this question should again be submitted to the members, and in doing so the Council wishes it to be understood that it has its unanimous approval”.

The vote to allow female members carries, 152 to 111.
1918   October  Miss Mary Emma Humble, Miss Evelyn Maud West and Miss Irene Dorothy Bourn are admitted as licentiates. 

*The Institute of Accountants and Auditors of Western Australia merged with Commonwealth Institute of Accountants (CIA) in 1923. This is when Addie Hamilton first appears on CIA – previously the IIAV, and later CPA Australia – membership lists.


A snapshot of the growth in female membership of CPA Australia.

1919 – 8 members, 0.005%
1933 – 74 members, 0.018%
1975 – 1200 members, 3%
1986 – 5971 members, 11.1%
1994 – 16,395 members, 22%
1996 – 43% of new members are women
2015 – 155,000 members, 45%
2018 – 164,695 members, 49%