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The City

“Violet Oakley belongs to Philadelphia no matter how distantly the attachments of her art may carry her,” Harrison S. Morris, former managing director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, wrote in 1930. Morris had followed Oakley’s career from the time she enrolled at the school in 1896. Although she lived abroad for months or years at a time, Philadelphia was her home for more than sixty years. Soon after Oakley arrived in Philadelphia from New York she began contributing to the cultural life of the city. She helped found the Plastic Club, the Water Color Club, PAFA’s Alumni Fellowship, and the Art Alliance. She designed floats for the Founder’s Day Pageant in 1908, the medal of the Philadelphia Award in 1921, and a monumental altarpiece for the sanctuary of the city’s free art school, the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, in 1929. She contributed designs for bookplates, posters, and banners to a number of urban events and city institutions. Her bond with Philadelphia deepened when she delved into the life of William Penn for her murals in the Pennsylvania State Capitol and learned about the Quaker city’s anti-slavery, feminist, and pacifist legacy. An advocate of international government, Oakley believed that Colonial Philadelphia’s “Holy Experiment” of religious and racial diversity was the precursor of the “Miracle of Geneva,” where the League of Nations was established after World War I.

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