Introducing Marguerite Cartwright

The Amistad Research Center, with funding assistance from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), is archivally processing the papers of Dr. Marguerite Cartwright. The papers have proven to be a very fascinating collection—from her own personal documents and writings to the materials she collected in during the course of her work as an educator and journalist. The Cartwright papers provide information about her life, her interests and contemporary issues of the 20th century faced by countries around the world. In celebration of Women’s History Month, Amistad will be posting a series of blogs about Cartwright’s life and works. We begin with this introduction:

Dr. Marguerite Cartwright hosting an Open House for the Overseas Press Club

Dr. Marguerite Cartwright was born May 17, 1910, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the only child to Mary and Joseph Dorsey. She attended Boston University when she was just fifteen years old and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 1932 and a Master’s degree in Drama. At the time, Cartwright was the youngest person to receive those degrees from the university. She later earned her Ed.D. from New York University. Throughout her life, she worked as an actress, journalist, lecturer, and diplomat.

One of the biggest research strengths of Cartwright’s papers is how they show the idealism surrounding the formation of the United Nations (UN), created as an instrument to bring world peace following the horrors of World War II. Dr. Cartwright truly believed in the promise of the UN, and reflected that belief through her writings and dedication to her profession in journalism. In 1955, she became an officially-accredited correspondent to the United Nations and wrote the first regular column devoted to the organization to appear in an African American newspaper while working with the Pittsburgh Courier. According to one of her letters, she chose to become a correspondent due to her belief that African Americans were largely unaware of the work the UN did around the world.

A group of United Nations representatives

Dr. Cartwright was also heavily involved in the arts, as reflected in her correspondence and in the organizations that she supported. Cartwright’s acting career began on Broadway with Paul Green’s “Roll Sweet Chariot,” and she was cast in six Hollywood films, including the 1936 film Green Pastures. The collection contains opera programs, playbills, and concert programs reflecting Cartwright’s interest in the role of African Americans in professional and amateur performances. Cartwright voraciously collected items related to African Americans in the theater and the arts. Performers documented within the Cartwright papers include Bessie Smith, W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington, and Leigh Whipper. One of the more interesting aspects of this part of the collection are the reviews she wrote on the playbills and programs she collected.

A program from a performance of “Othello” featuring Paul Robeson, that Cartwright attended with her husband in 1943. She proclaimed it “Excellent!”

Cartwright’s papers also contain materials from her travels around the world. Dr. Cartwright compiled scrapbooks of photographs and souvenirs from her trips to places in Europe, Africa and Central and South America. As Amistad’s archivists continue to arrange and describe the Marguerite Cartwright Papers, we will be sharing more aspects of her life and work in celebration of March’s Women’s History Month.

The Marguerite D. Cartwright Papers are being processed with support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission under grant RH-102791-19.

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