A historical marker has been raised in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, in honor of Jackie Ormes, the first syndicated black woman cartoonist, whose characters Torchy Brown and Patty-Jo broke new ground in newspapers of the 1930s and '40s.

Although Jackie was born in Pittsburgh, she and her family moved to Monongahela when she was a child. She drew cartoons for her high school yearbook and already had a job writing and proofreading for the Pittsburgh Courier by graduation. In 1937 she began her first comic strip, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, at the Courier.

Torchy Brown, the protagonist, was a teenager from Mississippi who found her way to the famous Cotton Club as a singer and dancer. The strip featured well-developed and realistic black characters at a time when most comics confined black characters to racist stereotypes and comic relief.

“She finally gave black girls something positive to identify with,” observed Monongahela Area Historical Society president Susan Bowers in the Monongahela Observer-Reporter.



In 1942, Ormes moved to Chicago and began working at The Chicago Defender, one of America's foremost black newspapers. However, the comic she worked on for them, Candy, never quite got off the ground. In 1945 she started a second comic at the Pittsburgh Courier; Patty-Jo and Ginger was a one-panel cartoon about a little girl and her grown sister. The younger girl, Patty-Jo, often makes bitingly satirical comments about race and politics, while her sister Ginger says nothing but looks great in her fashionable clothes. It turned out to be a winning formula, and a Patty-Jo doll was made in 1947.

Torchy Brown was rebooted in 1950 as Torchy Brown in Heartbeats, and remains a well-remembered comic strip character. Jackie Ormes passed away in 1985, but deserves to be well remembered as a pioneer, both in the comics community and in Monongahela, where the marker will remind future generations of what a woman who came of age in that small town went on to accomplish.

[Via Observer-Reporter]