Historical Note


As the first woman artist to receive a major public art commission in America, Violet Oakley combined her artistic talents with her commitment to pacificism and feminism. Considered an important American Renaissance artist, Oakley is best known for her murals and stained glass projects. Oakley was born June 10, 1874 and raised in Bergen Heights, NJ. She began her art studies by the age of 18 and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she later taught. She also studied with Howard Pyle at Drexel University, which awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree in 1948. Oakley began her career as a magazine and book illustrator. Her most signficant project, which took 25 years to complete, was for the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. For that commission, Oakley painted 43 murals, decorating the Governors Grand Reception Room, the Senate chambers and the Supreme Court room. Oakley maintained a studio in Philadelphia's center city for about a decade, and then spent a few years in Villanova, Pennsylvania, before settling permanently in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. The residence was dubbed "Cogslea," and Oakley lived there with two fellow artists, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith. Pyle nicknamed the trio the Red Rose Girls. Henrietta Cozens and Oakley's partner Edith Emerson also lived there. Violet Oakley died February 25, 1961.