The CPA You Need To Know About: Ruth Coles Harris

Black History Month is excellent opportunity to highlight the achievements and successes of Black Americans throughout history. As the first black American female CPA in Virginia, Dr. Ruth Coles Harris is an inspiration to us all on the power of perseverance.

Our friends at NABA shared Ruth’s story and we were so inspired by it that we wanted to share it with you. Dr. Ruth Coles Harris is an incredible example of how you can do anything if you put your mind to it and properly prepare.

Ruth Coles Harris graduation photo
Dr. Ruth Coles Harris (right) at her graduation. Photo Credit to Accounting Today.

So who is Ruth Coles Harris? She’s the great-granddaughter of slaves and grew up during the Great Depression. She graduated at the top of her class at Virginia State College in 1948 as a business major. Because of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States, she had to leave Virginia to continue her education. But in 1949, she earned her MBA from New York University.

Ruth returned to Virginia immediately after earning her MBA to inspire the next generation of business leaders as a professor. After teaching at Virginia Union University in Richmond for over a decade, Ruth realized that she could inspire her students even further by taking the CPA exam. In 1962, she passed the two-day exam and became the first black woman to be a certified public accountant in the state of Virginia.

For all of her accomplishments, Ruth was named to the Library of Virginia’s list of Virginia Women in History.

Listen to her interview with WTJU about what it was like to sit for the CPA during a time when there were fewer than 100 African American CPAs in the nation.

What’s her advice for anyone facing a big challenge?

“Preparation is key. You can’t wait until the door opens first and then get prepared. You have to be prepared so when the door opens, whatever opportunity presents itself, you’re ready to take advantage of it.”