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Jackie Ormes: First African-American Female Cartoonist

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Jackie Ormes Creating a Comic

Jackie Ormes Creating a Comic

During the mid-20th century in America, the newspaper industry offered very few opportunities for women. There were even fewer for women of color. Jackie Ormes is remembered as the first African-American woman cartoonist.

Her style was unique. The lead characters created by Ormes were female. They were witty, strong, opinionated, elegant, urbane, intelligent, and often had very glamorous and cultured lives. Many people believe they represented the artist herself. Ormes's caricatures challenged the stereotypes associated with black people of her time and especially black women.

Early Years

On August 1, 1911, Zelda Mavin Jackson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her father's name was William Winfield Jackson and her mother's name was Mary Brown Jackson. Her father was a movie theater proprietor and owned a printing company. In 1917, he was killed in a car accident. She and her older sister were then sent to live with an aunt and uncle for a short time. Ormes and her sister went back with their mother when she remarried. The family then relocated to the nearby town of Monongahela. In 1930, Ormes graduated from Monongahela high school. All during her time in high school, she impressed teachers with her drawing and writing. During 1929 and 1930, she was the editor for the Monongahela High School Yearbook. She was known for the lively caricatures she created based on her school's teachers and students. It was during this time that she wrote a letter to the editor of a weekly African-American newspaper called the Pittsburgh Courier. It was a newspaper that was published on Saturdays. The editor of the newspaper wrote back to her.

Newspaper Career

The editor gave Ormes her first writing assignment. She was asked to cover a boxing match. Ormes did a good job and covering other boxing matches resulted in her becoming a dedicated boxing fan. She eventually got a job with the Pittsburgh Courier as a proofreader. She then worked as a freelance writer as well as editor for the paper. Ormes would write on human-interest topics, court cases, and police beats. She enjoyed running around the town and learning about things and then writing about them. Ormes confessed what she really wanted to do was draw.

Torchy Brown Comic

Torchy Brown Comic

Cartooning Career

Ormes got permission to do a comic strip for the newspaper. On May 1, 1937, her first comic strip called “Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem” appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier. Her work was put in all fourteen city editions of the paper. The comic strip featuring Torchy Brown was a humorous story about a Mississippi teenager who became famous for dancing and singing in the Cotton Club. Torchy then moves from Mississippi to New York. The adventures of Torchy became very popular. This comic strip made Ormes the first African-American woman to create a comic strip that was read by a national audience. Her contract was over in April 1932, and she stopped doing the “Torchy Brown” comic strip.

Candy Comic

Candy Comic


In 1942, Ormes moved to Chicago. She started writing for The Chicago Defender. Ormes wrote a social column and occasionally articles. This was one of the leading black newspapers in the United States. It was published weekly. While here, she did a single panel cartoon called “Candy.” It was about a wisecracking and attractive housemaid. This comic ran from March 24 to July 21 during 1945.

Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger Comic

Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger Comic

Return to Pittsburgh Courier

During August 1945, Ormes returned to Pittsburgh and began to once again work for the Pittsburgh Courier. This is when she created a single-panel cartoon called “Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger” that ran for 11 years. It had a socially/politically-aware child who is the only speaker. The child had a big sister who was a beautiful adult woman with a pin-up figure. “Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger” ran from September 1945 to September 1956.

Return of Torchy Character

In 1950, the Pittsburgh Courier started to provide an eight-page color comics insert. This is when Ormes provided a new Torchy character who was then an independent and talented woman. She is always seeking true love and having adventures. Ormes used this comic to express her talent for fashion designs. It will always be remembered for its last installment on September 18, 1954. Torchy and her boyfriend, who is a physician, confront environmental pollution and racism. Ormes used her comic strip to address the big issues of the time. She was proud Torchy broke the stereotypical media portrayals of black women. Torchy Brown was brave, confident, and intelligent.

Patty-Jo Doll

Patty-Jo Doll

Patty-Jo Dolls

In 1947, Ormes contacted the Terri Lee doll company. She proposed they produce a doll based on Patty-Jo, the little girl characters in her cartoon. That year, the Patty-Jo doll was on store shelves in time for Christmas. It was the first African-American doll to come with an extensive wardrobe that was upscale. Unlike other African-American dolls, this one represented a real child and not a stereotype. That Christmas, the dolls were popular with white as well as black children. Ormes's contract was not renewed in 1949. The production of her dolls ended.

Jackie Ormes

Jackie Ormes


In 1931, Jackie Ormes married Earl Ormes. He was an accountant. Initially, the couple moved to Salem, Ohio. This was so Earl could be close to his family. Ormes did not like living in Ohio. The couple eventually moved to Chicago. They had one child named Jacqueline. She died of a brain tumor when she was three years old. Ormes remained married to Earl until he died in 1976.


In 1956, Ormes retired from cartooning. She continued to create art. Ormes did portraits, murals, and still life paintings. She stopped when her rheumatoid arthritis made doing these things too difficult. Ormes also spent time on the board of directors for the DuSable Museum of African-American History.


On December 26, 1985, Jackie Ormes died in Chicago. The cause was a cerebral hemorrhage. Ormes was 74 years old at the time of her death.

Jackie Ormes Memorial in Pennsylvania

Jackie Ormes Memorial in Pennsylvania

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In 2014, Ormes was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. In 2018, she was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Hall of Fame. She was a Judges' Choice.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on December 10, 2020:

Peggy, thanks. I bet anyone who has one of those dolls will have something valuable.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 09, 2020:

Thanks for showcasing this talented lady who accomplished much during her life. That is a cute doll that is probably very collectible today. It is sad to know that they lost their only child at such a young age.

Readmikenow (author) on December 09, 2020:

Dora, thanks. She accomplished a lot considering the time when she lived.

Readmikenow (author) on December 09, 2020:

Fran thanks, She was also very artistically gifted.

Readmikenow (author) on December 09, 2020:

MG thanks, I enjoyed learning about her.

Readmikenow (author) on December 09, 2020:

Louise, thanks. She was an impressive person.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 09, 2020:

Thanks for researching and presenting the auspicious life and work of Jackie Ormes. Your articles inspire appreciation for exemplary successful men and women and hope for us who learn from them.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on December 09, 2020:

Fascinating about a woman I knew nothing about. She was clever and today would probably be famous and remembered. I love her ingenuity.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 09, 2020:

a wonderful article about a person I didn't know about. Fascinating reading.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on December 09, 2020:

That was very interesting to read! I've never heard of her before. She sounds like she was a very fascinating and clever lady!

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