Back to main

Blog: John W. Cromwell Jr., CPA: An Accounting Trailblazer

John W. Cromwell Jr., CPA: An Accounting Trailblazer

Vault is committed to building a more diverse and inclusive workspace where employees are empowered and encouraged to bring their whole self to work.  In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting historical figures who pioneered progress in our industry.

John W. Cromwell, CPA

Vault offers outsourced accounting services and this week we look to John W. Cromwell, Jr. the first Black CPA, as an example of resilience and tenacity. Cromwell Jr. was born in Washington D.C. in 1833 to a prominent black family. His father was born enslaved in Portsmouth, Virginia, but was freed and worked to achieve an advanced education.

Cromwell Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and excelled in math and science at Dartmouth College where he earned highest honors as an undergraduate student in 1906. He went on to attain his master’s degree from Dartmouth and returned home to Washington D.C.  to begin work.

Roadblocks to the CPA

In the early 1900s a CPA certification required a minimum experience requirement practicing public accounting. This regulation prevented Blacks from having access to this certification as most CPA firms refused to hire them due to mistrust from clients. Many firms claimed that their clients would not tolerate a person of color being involved in their financial affairs. Subsequently, Cromwell Jr. took a post after college as a high school math teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, a prestigious Black high school in Washington D.C.

First Black CPA

In 1921, New Hampshire became the first state in the United States to drop their experience requirements for the CPA certification. Cromwell Jr. sat for the CPA exam in New Hampshire that year and became the first Black CPA. His license was granted 25 years after the first CPA license was conferred to a white man.

Cromwell Jr. taught and worked as a CPA in Washington, primarily within the Black community. In 1960, nearly 40 years after he earned his CPA certificate, Cromwell Jr. remained the only Black CPA in the District. He passed away in 1971 at age 88.

Increasing Diversity in the CPA Profession

Prior to Cromwell Jr., the road to the CPA seemed unattainable for the Black community. His tenacity and resilience paved the way not just for Blacks, but minorities as a whole. In 1969, the AICPA formed the Minority Initiatives Committee to increase diversity in the CPA profession. Their goal was to provide opportunities and promote the hiring of qualified minority accounting students. 

Today, minorities only represent 4.3% of the accounting profession and Blacks make up 3% of the new hire population for CPA firms.  This means that within 40 years, the Black percentage in the accounting profession only rose by 2%.

Vault is committed to increasing diversity not only in the CPA profession, but the workforce as a whole. Check out our recent blog post highlighting changes needed to increase diversity in the CPA profession.