1894 - 1975

“Use those brains that God put in your head.”

– Jackie “Moms” Mabley

She was born Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard, NC, one of 16 children. Raised in poverty, by the age of 15 she'd been raped twice and had two children given up for adoption. When her mother's boyfriend pressured her to marry an older gentleman, Loretta's grandmother encouraged her to flee. She ran to Cleveland and joined a minstrel show. Having taken the stage name Jackie Mabley from an early boyfriend, Loretta earned the nickname "Moms" from her strong mothering nature towards those she worked with throughout the years on the black vaudeville circuit (aka “The Chitlin' Circuit”). Over the years Moms developed an inimitable raunchy style. Although she lived her entire adult life as a lesbian, Moms "dirty old lady” routine – always on the prowl for a young man – was a sensation. She played at The Savoy and The Cotton Club, and she appeared at the Apollo Theater more than any other performer in history, earning $10,000 a week; eventually she even played Carnegie Hall in 1962. Billed as "The Funniest Woman in the World" she tackled topics too edgy for many other comics of the era, such as racism, poverty, and sexism. In a career that spanned over six decades, Moms appeared in several films, recorded over 20 comedy albums, and eventually gained a new audience in variety shows in the 1960s/1970s, including 'The Smothers Brothers,' 'Laugh In,' 'Flip Wilson' and ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ In the final year of her life she had her first starring role in a motion picture, ‘Amazing Grace.’ She is considered the first successful female stand-up comic.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity African American Black

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Interwar Period (1918-1939) Roaring Twenties (1920-1929)

Field(s) of Contribution





Commemorations & Honors

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley HBO Documentary (2013)


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell