Alan P. Mayer-Sommer UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
PUBLIC ACCOUNTING IN 1929
Abstract: Shortly before the beginning of the Great Depression, certified public accountants were struggling for both an acceptable definition of their role as well as professional recognition. This paper describes the environment in which CPAs worked as well as their concerns. Areas reviewed include training and entry into the field, ethical and legal standards, conduct of practice, financial rewards, pro-fessional concerns, and perceptions of the future. The purpose of the paper is to increase our appreciation of the challenges and opportunities facing CPAs in 1929.
Just before the start of the Great Depression, certified public accountants were few in number and struggling for professional recognition. This paper describes the nature of their world: train-ing and entry into the field, ethical and legal standards, conduct of practice, financial rewards and perceptions of the future. The pic-ture that emerges contributes to our appreciation of the challenges and opportunities facing CPAs fifty years ago.
College and the First Job
The accounting class of 1929 was small by today's standards. In fact, there were only about 56,000 students enrolled in accounting courses. Only about 10% of these were majoring in accounting. Many college graduates did not even consider a career in public accounting: the profession was not well known. Of those graduates who did opt for public accounting careers, most initially took jobs with private corporations.1 There were several reasons for this preference: students desired to gain some practical accounting ex-perience before going with public accounting firms, accounting em-ployees in public practice experienced seasonal layoffs that were particularly widespread among inexperienced juniors, and there was "still a great deal of prejudice among accountants against the green college graduate."2
To attract more and better graduates into the profession, the American Institute of Accountants (later to change its name to the AICPA) organized its Bureau for Placements in 1926. By 1929, more than 10,000 college students had received the Bureau's pamphlets