Jessie Whitney Cartwright papers

 An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Summary Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives
Cartwright, Jessie Whitney, 1891-1977
Jessie Whitney Cartwright papers
Date [inclusive]
3.5 Linear feet
The Jessie Whitney Cartwright papers primarily reflect Cartwright's involvement in the field of home economics, though some of the papers pertain to her personal life as well.

Preferred Citation

Jessie Whitney Cartwright papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago

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Biography of Jessie Cartwright

Jessie Whitney Cartwright (1891-1977) was known for her skills as a home economist, businesswoman, orator, inventor, and social activist. Born in Bad Axe, Michigan, Cartwright received her undergraduate degree in home economics, and undertook graduate work in the same field. In 1912, Cartwright joined the suffragette movement and, soon after, married W. R. Cartwright. It wasn't until after her children were grown that she began her career.

Cartwright's belated entrance into the field of home economics, however, did not lessen its impact. At the age of fifty, she began working at the Norge Divison of Borg-Werner as their national home service director. Known as the "Washer Woman," Cartwright used her expertise in laundry appliances to help lighten the domestic workload for women across the country. Traveling from Chicago (where she now lived) to cities across the United States, Cartwright used her charismatic speaking style and her gift for creative writing to deliver talks about household appliances. These speeches not only gave helpful laundry tips to the housewives who attended, but also examined common attitudes about traditional gender roles. Cartwright hoped to convince audiences a woman's labor within the home is worthy of the same respect as a man labor within the work force, and much of her work focused on lessening the burden of that labor. A pioneer in the newly emerging laundry appliance industry, Cartwright was the inventor of several items designed to improve the efficiency of the washing machine. These inventions include the back-panels for washers and the Riplette, a miniature agitator used for washing delicate items.

Cartwright's ambitions were literary as well; she taught creative writing, published articles in women's magazines, and in her spare time, wrote poetry. In her early eighties, after retirement, Cartwright divided her time between volunteer work at hospitals and, to the surprise of those around her, her newly developing interest in yoga. Her colorful life and career was recognized by the City of Chicago when, near the end of her life, she was inducted into its Hall of Fame. In June of 1977, Cartwright died of cancer at the age of 86. Because she had donated her body to Northwestern University, no funeral was held, but notes from her memorial service suggest that she will be remembered for her dynamic personality as well as for her continual efforts to extend support to those around her.

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Scope and Contents

The Jessie Whitney Cartwright papers primarily reflect Cartwright's involvement in the field of home economics, though some of the papers pertain to her personal life as well. While the collection spans from 1897-1977, very few of the documents in this collection cover the period between 1909 and 1951. In addition, some of the material in this collection belonged to her husband, W. R. Cartwright. Documents in the Jessie Whitney Cartwright papers include newspaper clippings, speeches, press releases, photographs, telegrams, and audio recordings. All material is organized chronologically.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives 2004-06-24

801 S. Morgan Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60607

Restrictions on Access


Restrictions on Use


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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Cartwright, Jessie Whitney, 1891-1977 -- Archives


  • Home economists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Midwest Women's History.

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Collection Inventory

Series I: Jessie Cartwright Papers 

Box Folder

W. R. Cartwright papers - letters and poems, 1897-1938 

1 1

Press releases, notes, yearbook, poem, Norge fact book, 1909-1961 

1 2

Newspaper clippings, speeches, 1951-1972 

1 3

Newspaper clippings, tribute, memorial service program, 1953-1977 

1 4

Newspaper clippings, 1954 

1 5

Speeches, poem, commencement invitation, photograph, 1954-1961 

1 6

Speeches, short story, 1958-1962 

1 7

Speeches, bibliography, creative writing, photograph, certificate, 1961 

1 8

Telegrams, photographs, 1963 

1 9

7" reel audio recording tape (Jessie Cartwright Special), undated 

1 10

7" reel audio recording tape, undated 

1 11

Certificate of appreciation, Certificate of honorary citizenship to New Orleans, sign for Jessie Cartwright Special, 1958 

Folder 12

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