Oseola McCarty, a onetime washwoman who earned widespread recognition after she donated her life savings to a Mississippi university, died Sept. 26 of complications from liver cancer. She was 91.

Ms. McCarty, who lived and worked most of her life in a small, wooden-frame house in Hattiesburg, Miss., saved thousands of dollars she earned washing and ironing clothes for others.

She earned international acclaim in July 1995 when the university announced she had willed $150,000 of her life's savings to Southern Mississippi to provide scholarships for deserving, financially needy students.

In donating the $150,000, Ms. McCarty said she wanted to give others the chance to get the education she never had. She said she had dreamed of becoming a nurse but had to drop out of elementary school to care for sick relatives.

"Her life, her thrift and her generosity have inspired millions," said Southern Mississippi spokesman Bud Kirkpatrick, who had worked closely with Ms. McCarty in coordinating her personal appearances and media interviews since 1995.

Her life changed dramatically after her donation. The woman who had spent her entire life in Hattiesburg was honored by President Clinton, attracted international media attention and wrote a book espousing her philosophy of simple living.

Ms. McCarty's gift, willed to the university in an irrevocable trust administered by the university foundation, led to a matching fund-raising drive that had raised more than $330,000 at the time of her death. Donations to the Oseola McCarty Endowed Scholarship Fund have provided scholarships for nine students.