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Wisconsin School of Business Community Joins in Mourning Loss, Celebrating Life of Larzette Hale

by Peter Kerwin Friday, February 13, 2015

A history maker. A ground-breaking pioneer. A warm and wonderful woman who inspired others.

All of these words have been used to describe Larzette Hale, an alumnae of the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who died last week at the age of 94. Hale was the first African-American woman in the country to receive a CPA license and to earn a Ph.D. She graduated from the Wisconsin School of Business Ph.D. accounting program in 1955 and had previously earned a master’s degree in accounting and finance from the School in 1943.

Upon receiving her master’s degree, she embarked on a teaching career at Clark College in Atlanta. While there, she was encouraged to sit for her CPA exam and in 1951, she became a CPA. One of her accounting professors from the Wisconsin School of Business had kept in touch and encouraged her to blaze another new trail, suggesting she return to Wisconsin and earn her Ph.D. That professor happened to be Fayette Elwell, the dean of the business school, then known as the Wisconsin School of Commerce.

Hale returned to Wisconsin, received her Ph.D. and then went on to establish her own CPA firm in Atlanta, Georgia. Later, she served as a professor of accounting for nearly 20 years at Utah State University and head of its School of Accountancy for 13 years. Her accomplishments also include an appointment by Utah’s governor to the State Committee on Cultural Awareness, serving on the Utah Board of Regents, and publishing articles for a number of business education journals.  

“With Larzette Hale’s passing, we celebrate her achievements and remember her significant role in the Badger accounting community,” said Terry Warfield, chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at UW-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business. “She was a trailblazer in terms of promoting diversity within her profession, while speaking out and encouraging others to make an impact in doing the work they loved.”

Hale’s achievements were chronicled in “A White Collar Profession: African-American CPAs since 1921”. The author of that book, Theresa Hammond, who received her MBA and a Ph.D. in Accounting from the Wisconsin School of Business, remembered Hale as a warm and generous woman who helped bring down barriers.

“I had the privilege of seeing Dr. Hale speak about her career to college students and accounting professionals on many occasions,” said Hammond. “Invariably, participants would flock to her afterwards, drawn by her warmth, humor, and intelligence.  She has inspired young accounting PhDs and CPAs for decades.”

In 1993, the Wisconsin School of Business honored Hale as a Distinguished Accounting Alumnae. She had previously served as national president of Beta Alpha Psi, the honor society for accounting and finance students, in addition to leading the American Woman’s Society of CPAs as national president.