Jackie Ormes: The first female African American cartoonist

Jackie Ormes' strip "Torchy Heartbeats" from January 1, 1952.

For this next installment of our series, we take a look at the career of cartoonist Jackie Ormes. We asked Nancy Goldstein, the author of "Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist," to explain what made Ormes special: 

People often ask me – what made Jackie Ormes so unique? What was original about her? What did she bring in that was new? Well first of all, here comes a 5’2”, all of 105 pound little lady into a newsroom full of men, at a time when women weren’t really in the newspapers that much but certainly were not cartoonists.

What she brought was lead characters that were female. They were intelligent, they were sophisticated and witty and sometimes brave. They were shopping, they were going to concerts, taking music lessons, going on road trips – really living the upscale life in a way that defied those stereotypes and caricatures of blacks that you see in comics that were in the mainstream press.

But underneath, she often had protest and satire. She was fierce. And many times, her drawing pen was her weapon. She took on racism, taxes and labor strikes. McCarthyism. United States foreign policy, the Cold war, education and jobs. She was the first cartoonist of any kind to bring out environmental pollution. In one particular episode, she shows how the water is befouled by the drainage from the factory and how the air is full of smoke and soot. Talk about contemporary.

In 1985, a reporter interviewed Jackie Ormes and she said to him, “I’m just so surprised people remember me.”

It took about 30 years for another African American cartoonist woman to come along. 

Click on the pictures to see some of Ormes'  comics:

1. On the Emett Till trial: October 8, 1955

2. On housing: February 11, 1950

3. On racism: March 12, 1949

4. On World War II victory gardens: June 30, 1945

About the author

Nancy Goldstein is author of "Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist"

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