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Allisonian Firsts: Christine (Ross) Baker

A virtual exhibition celebrating the bold Allisonians who became the "firsts" in their field.

Christine (Ross) Barker

First female Chartered Public Accountant in the United States, 1898

Christine (Ross) Barker was born on 2 January 1866 in Little Bras D’or, Cape Breton. She was the daughter of John Ross (1820-1892) and Christine Isabel [possibly Christina Isobel] (MacKay). Her father was a farmer as well as a local politician. His neighbours in Victoria County elected him to the Nova Scotia Legislature in 1867, where he sat until 1874. The family subsequently left Cape Breton and set up Prospect Farm in Pictou County, where there were better educational facilities for the children. In Cape Breton, the family had kept a one-room schoolhouse on their property, where all six of the Ross children and the neighbours' children were educated. Christine attended Pictou Academy before arriving at the Mount Allison Ladies’ College in 1882. She stayed for two years.

Ross subsequently travelled to New York, where she took a job in the office of Manning’s Yacht Agency. She became chief assistant to the proprietor, and at his suggestion attended night classes at the University of the State of New York. In 1896, New York State enacted its first Certified Public Accounting Law. Ross sat for the exam in June 1898 and scored second in her group (and only seven-tenth of a percent below the highest score). When she presented herself for her diploma, however, she was refused on the basis of her sex. Her certificate was delayed by state regents, one of whom argued that “If we had known women would try to be Certified Public Accountants, we would have enacted legislation to exclude them.” She was offered a Junior Certificate instead, but she refused, and continued to vehemently protest the matter for a year. She returned to New York University to study law, then travelled to Albany, New York, to argue her own case three times before state regents conceded that she was entitled to practice. She became the first woman Certified Public Accountant in the United States, receiving certificate no. 143 on 21 December 1899. She continued to practice for a number of years.

Ross was a strong supporter of the social reform movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was an ardent suffragette and a single-tax advocate, and she continued to espouse these ideals upon her return to Canada. She joined the Canadian Woman Suffrage Association, and pushed for pacifist aims throughout the First World War and interwar decades.

She married Wesley Edward Barker (1871-1936) on 23 December 1903 in New York City. The couple moved around the United States before finally settling in Toronto, Ontario. They had one daughter: Mary Ross Barker, born 8 January 1905. Mary was a trailblazer in her own right. She pioneered physical education for women in the 1930s, and in 1999 became a member of the Order of Canada.

Christine Ross died on 24 June 1940 in London, Ontario. She is buried in Brookside Cemetery, New Glasgow, Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

Related materials

You can find more information about Christine Ross Barker and peruse the contents of her fonds (accession no. 8367) on our Descriptions Database. You can access these records by planning a visit to the archives.