By Carly Rutledge
While many of you find it challenging to balance the workload and challenges resulting from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you might also find yourself having a bit more time with the absence of daily commutes and extracurricular activities. I ask that you take this time to allow yourself a few minutes to focus on a different newsworthy event—Women’s History Month. Please join me in celebrating one woman in particular, Ms. Marion Gaines Saulsbury.
Who is Marion Gaines Saulsbury?
On November 13, 1946, Marion became the first female CPA licensed in North Carolina. On June 17, 1962, Marion amazed the profession and her community once again when she became the first female CPA licensed in South Carolina. At a time and region in which women fought for equality in the workforce—and many other areas—Marion broke barriers.
Her daughter Carol recalls her mother’s astonishment at the assumption women were inept—a notion she would lay to rest during her unorthodox career. Marion championed for women’s equality throughout her life, dedicating several decades to Zonta International, a global organization advocating for the advancement of women.
Even as we battle current obstacles, like parenting during a pandemic and total remote working, we can appreciate that the struggles southern women in this time period went through is something our generation, and those to come, will never have to experience.
Despite her disadvantaged position as a female in a primarily male environment, Marion was passionate about her work. Her career began when she first started working for the textile union. She frequented a dozen sites to review organizations’ books and check their contributions to labor unions. In this one instance, being female gave Marion the upper hand as men were traditionally refused access. The unfortunate reason Marion could review these books is because women weren’t perceived as smart enough to understand the content. To them, the books may as well have been written in an ancient language (cue eyeroll).
The Power of a Single Letter
When Marion entered the accounting profession, she didn’t have to put on a full Mulan-style disguise to fit into the male-dominated workplace. She did, however, believe she had a little help in concealing her gender. Marion told Carol she believes her name being spelled with an “o” instead of an “a” facilitated her licensure.
Marion ignited her career in 1941, when she attended the University of South Carolina for two years before moving to North Carolina where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree with a major in accounting from the University of North Carolina (UNC).
Perhaps it was a single letter that opened the door to the three that composed her designation. Regardless, Marion’s intelligence and dedication are what’s worth celebrating today.
Paving Unexpected Roads for Women
The same year Marion made history by becoming the first female CPA in North Carolina, she also divorced her first husband and the father of her daughter Carol and two sons Clark and Gaines. Despite societal pressure and single women’s potential being traditionally grim, Marion persevered as a single mom.
“I am astonished at how many norms of society mom broke. She set future patterns for many women to accept years later,” beamed Carol reflecting on her mother’s accomplishments.
Following the divorce, Marion signed a non-compete clause when her and her ex-husband sold their CPA business. She proceeded to earn her MBA at USC in Columbia so she could teach business at the college level. She graduated with a 3.6 GPA, and with the expiration of the non-compete clause, resumed practicing accounting.
Marion went on to marry a man ten years her junior—another unorthodox act at the time—who tragically died in a car accident in 1969. Years later, she married Keene Saulsbury whom she spent twenty-eight years with and faithfully cared for during his decades of dementia.
An Undying Passion
Her love for the profession and teaching never wavered, and Marion Gaines Saulsbury worked until the day she died in 2012. Throughout her life, she was recognized for her passion and accomplishments. She received several honors, including sorority scholastic awards, the Outstanding Women of the Twentieth Century award, and Outstanding Young Woman of the Year in Columbia, SC.
Marion was a faithful member of the AICPA for over 50 years. She also belonged to the South Carolina Association of CPAs, National Association of Accountants (where she served as secretary), South Carolina Education Association, and American Association of University Professors.
Above all, Marion was a fearless female leader, beloved mother, and an important trailblazer to the profession. As we learn how to cope with the many firsts we face today, let’s take a moment to pay homage to female leaders like Marion who paved the way for many of us today.