Hilda Terry, who died Friday at 92, was a cartoonist whose strip "Teena" featured stylish adolescent girls and ran in newspapers nationally between 1941 and 1964.
As one of the few syndicated female cartoonists — "There were never more than six of us," she once said — Terry had a national reputation and used her fame to open the doors of the National Cartoonists Society to women in 1950.
In the early 1970s, Terry prioneered the new field of scoreboard animation and created six story-high images of baseball players' heads that were displayed throughout the major leagues.
Later in life, convinced that she was the reincarnation of Dorcas Good, a child accused of witchcraft at Salem, Mass., Terry wrote increasingly abstruse meditations and books on the divine, including "Does God Eat Us?" (1992), which the Jerusalem Post called "entertaining and thought-provoking."
A devotee of fabulous art parties from the time she turned up in New York at 17 in the early 1930s, Terry was the doyenne of Henderson Place, an architectural island on East 86th Street, from the 1950s. There, she and her husband, the cartoonist Gregory D'Alessio, hosted the Silly Center Opera Company, an informal weekly gathering of guitarists that often attracted Andrés Segovia and Carl Sandburg, who became a close family friend.
Terry was raised in Newburyport, Mass., not far from Salem. In later interviews and writings, Terry made much of the fact that the locals discriminated against her family and even assaulted them for being Jews. After leaving school at age 14, she worked in a local factory, soldering radio components. But she had ambitions of being a cartoonist and came to New York, where she found work as a waitress at Schrafft's on Times Square.
She studied art at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, where one of her teachers was D'Alessio. They were married in 1938. Not long after, the gossip columnist Leonard Lyons included a piquant item about how Terry managed to sell the New Yorker a cartoon that her husband had thought too frivolous to draw himself.
That first cartoon never ran, but Terry sold others and worked as a fashion illustrator. In 1941, she was signed to produce a feature initially titled "It's a Girl's Life" for King Features — summoned on orders of a telegram from that most cartoon-aware magnate, William Randolph Hearst. The strip first appeared on a date that would jangle in Terry's memory, December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day.
As World War II progressed, Terry and her husband both drew for patriotic war bond campaigns ostensibly scripted by celebrity entertainers like Fibber McGee and Molly. In 1943, she won a contest sponsored by the Office of Wartime Information for the best cartoon on wartime conservation. It showed a sprightly housewife (resembling Terry) spinning around to whack the refrigerator shut with her foot while carrying an armload of plates laden with food. The caption: "Lunch! Everybody come eat what you left on your plates yesterday!!!"
Terry toured with USO shows and was also a national official of the Campfire Girls (her American Indian name was "Squaw-With-Many-Prom-Dates"). After embarrassing the National Cartoonists Society into withdrawing its blackball against women, she served as a judge on the contests it sponsored.
After the demise of "Teena" in 1964 — Terry blamed a wave of newspaper strikes — she supported herself with architectural drafting and sketching patent applications. She also taught at the Art Students League.
To supplement the giant portraits of ballplayers she created for stadium scoreboards in the early 1970s, Terry got involved in early computer animation. The National Cartoonists Society gave her its Best Animation Cartoonist award in 1979.
Terry more or less retired in the early 1980s but continued to write and teach at the Art Students League, and when the Web came along, her computer experience made her a rare senior citizen Web master. Among her several Web sites were ones devoted to her husband's art (he died in 1994), a "cemetery in cyberspace" devoted to deceased notables, and a personal Web site where she poured out her theories about reincarnation and the best ways to solve problems in the Middle East. As she grew progressively deaf, electronic communication became a favorite method of socializing.
She was born, she was fond of pointing out, on the day of the "Great Salem Fire" of 1914 — interpreted by some as the revenge of witches executed there more than two centuries earlier. It is hard to believe that she would not have made much of the fact that she died on Friday the 13th.
Born Theresa Hilda Fellman on June 25, 1914, in Newburyport, Mass.; died October 13 at her home in Manhattan; there are no immediate survivors.