Beta Alpha Psi was formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on February 12, 1919. To put this date into context, it is important to understand that, before 1896, the CPA credential did not even exist. On April 17, 1896, the New York legislature established the Certified Public Accountant designation. By 1921, just after the formation of Beta Alpha Psi, all the existing states had adopted CPA regulations.

Three events led to the formation of Beta Alpha Psi at the University of Illinois. In 1913, the formation of Beta Gamma Sigma, a general honor society in business, may have stimulated people’s interests in professional organizations. Next, the formation of a chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity, introduced students to the benefits of professional fraternities. Finally, the return to campus of Hiram Scovill, class of 1908, as an accounting professor would prove to be an important key. He would later play an instrumental role as one of the founders of Beta Alpha Psi.

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The first step to creating the fraternity was to form an accounting club, which was accomplished in 1917. Scovill and his junior colleague, A.C. Littleton, were key players in this effort. Beta Alpha Psi emerged two years later, comprised of six students from Professor Scovill’s CPA Problems course. At the time, medical and legal fraternities were already common. Such bodies were thought of as symbols of professionalism for which accounting strove.

Beta Alpha Psi was founded on the three basic principles of scholarship, practicality, and sociability. The primary objective was simply to stimulate cooperation and interest in accounting. One of its main purposes was, and still is, to encourage and foster service as the basis of the accounting profession and to secure the highest ethical ideals in the practice of accountancy. No specific grade requirements were included in the constitution due to low accounting enrollments, which made the scholarship exclusion unrealistic.

In the original constitution for the University of Illinois chapter, the initiation fee was $10 and dues were $2 per semester. A fine of 25 cents was charged to any member that was absent at a function without being first excused. Membership requirements, as stated in Section One, Article IV of the constitution, were: Any male person, duly registered in third year accounting and contemplating a continuance in accounting work, and who has become a Junior as shown by the college records, shall be eligible to membership in this fraternity.

On February 12, 1919 eleven students were initiated as active members and Professor Scovill as an honorary member. Nine of the original members became CPAs. By 1939, only one of the original eleven, the first president Russell Morrision, was a practicing CPA. Morrision was actively involved in the American Accounting Association. In 1964, he was selected to serve with 8 leading accounting professors on the “Committee to Prepare a Statement of Basic Accounting Theory.” This work quickly became recognized as a major contribution to American accounting thought.

During February 1921, Beta Alpha Psi officially became a national organization with the adoption of a national constitution. Four weeks after the founding date, Scovill wrote accounting professors at ten leading universities concerning the new fraternity. In the letter, he urged them not to form comparable organizations at their respective schools, as it would only force unnecessary competition between the fraternities. In less than nine years, Beta Alpha Psi grew from 11 members to more than 900. On November 8, 1950, at the University of Miami of Ohio, the first female member of Beta Alpha Psi, Jeannie Skelton, was inducted. Currently, there are more than 238 chapters with over 200,000 current and alumni members

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