Named Zelda Maven, a baby girl was born to William and Mary (née Brown) Jackson on August 1, 1911 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she was only six years old, her father died in an automobile accident. As a result, Zelda and her older sister, Dolores, briefly lived with their aunt and uncle. With the re-marriage of Mary, the family moved to Monongahela, a quiet suburb outside Pittsburgh.
Her passion for illustrating began when she was a young girl. At an early age, Zelda loved to draw and write, perhaps moreso, because it strengthened a connection with her late father. The owner of a printing company and movie theater, William had also been an artist and writer.
When Zelda Jackson was a student at Monongahela High School, she became the arts editor of the school’s yearbook committee. She was chosen, according to Bio.com, to manage art duties for her high school yearbook during her junior and senior years, where she displayed what would be her future trademark, “her on-the-page wit”. Featured in the 1929-30 yearbook are caricatures of students and faculty that Zelda created. It was also during her youth that she began to be called “Jackie,” a nickname of her surname.
Upon her graduation from Monongahela High School in 1930, she married Earl Clark Ormes in 1931. Initially, the Ormes lived in Ohio so that he could be near his family. They had a daughter, Jacqueline, who, sadly, passed away at three years old due to a tumor in her brain.
Jackie began a professional relationship with the Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American owned newspaper whose target audience was the Black community. The affiliation began when Jackie wrote of her interests to the Courier’s editor, Robert Vann. She must have impressed those at the Pennsylvania newspaper because Ormes first comic strip, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, premiered in the Pittsburgh Courier on May 1, 1937. The strip ran until April 30, 1938.