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Violet Oakley Chronology

By Patricia Likos Ricci

1874 June 10: Violet Oakley is born in Jersey City, New Jersey, the youngest of Arthur Edmund Oakley and Cornelia Swain Oakley’s three children. Her older sisters are Cornelia “Nellie” Oakley (born 1869) and Hester Caldwell Oakley (born 1871).
1875 February: Sister “Nellie” Oakley dies from diphtheria.
1881 The Oakley family moves to South Orange, New Jersey, where Violet attends South Orange Academy and Dearborn-Morgan Academy.
1887-91 Sister Hester Caldwell Oakley attends Vassar College.

September: Violet Oakley visits the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with her aunt Frances Oakley.

Attends the fall semester of the Art Students League, studying with Irving Wiles (1861–1948) and J. Carroll Beckwith (1852–1917).


Attends the spring semester at Art Students League in New York.

April: Oakley’s father, Arthur, has symptoms of neurasthenia.

December: The Oakley family goes abroad. Violet visits her father’s sisters Georgina Oakley and Isabel Oakley at their villa in Tangier, Morocco.


The Oakley family visits Arthur’s sister Juliana Oakley de Tarnowsky and her son sculptor Michel de Tarnowsky in Nice, France.

In Paris, Violet and Hester Oakley attend Académie Montparnasse, studying with Edmond Aman-Jean (1858–1936) and Raphaël Collin (1850–1916).

July–September: They attend the art class of Charles Lasar (1856–1936) in Rye, Sussex (England).

October: After visiting London, the Oakley family returns to the United States. Violet and Hester rent a studio at the Rembrandt on West 57th Street in New York City and attend the Art Students League.


The Oakley family relocates to Philadelphia to seek medical treatment for Arthur.
Oakley attends classes taught by Cecilia Beaux (1855–1942), Joseph De Camp (1858–1923), and Henry Thouron (1851-1915) at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).

Violet and Hester rent a studio in the Clement C. Love Building at 1523 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.


February: Oakley attends an illustration class at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia taught by Howard Pyle (1853–1911) and meets students Jessie Willcox Smith (1863–1935) and Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871–1954). 

Collaborates with Jessie Willcox Smith on illustrations for a new edition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

Becomes a founding member of the Plastic Club, an association of professional women artists.

1898 December: Hester marries Stanley Ward at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, and moves to Brooklyn.

Oakley, an apprentice at the Church Glass and Decorating Company in New York, designs The Epiphany, a stained glass window created as a demonstration piece.

Shares a studio in the Love Building in Philadelphia with Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green.


January: Hester gives birth to a daughter named Margaret.

Oakley is commissioned by the Church Glass and Decorating Company to produce chancel murals, mosaic reredos, and lancet windows for All Angels Episcopal Church in New York.

Designs program brochure for the first May Day celebration at Bryn Mawr College. 

December 8: Arthur Oakley dies at the Friends Asylum for the Insane in Philadelphia.

1901 Summer: Violet Oakley rents Low Buildings at Bryn Mawr College with Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green.

February 2–14: Exhibits at the Plastic Club with Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green.

May: Leases the Red Rose estate in Villanova, Pennsylvania, and moves there with her mother, Elizabeth Shippen Green and her parents, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Henrietta Cozens.

June 10: Officially joins the Christian Science Church.

July 22: Awarded a mural commission for the Governor’s Reception Room at the new Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

August 16: Hester’s daughter Margaret dies in Asbury Park, New Jersey. 

December: Oakley’s illustrations for “The Story of Vashti” by George Baxter are published in Everybody’s Magazine.


April–September: Travels to London and Oxford to study the history of the Quakers and William Penn, and to Italy to study Renaissance frescoes.

June: Cured of asthma in Florence after sending a cable to a Christian Science practitioner in Philadelphia.

Commissioned to design Three Marys at the Sepulchre for the Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Child in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania.

Commissioned by Mary K. Gibson to design stained glass windows with scenes from Hamlet and The Tempest for Maybrook, her residence in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.


Awarded gold medal for illustration and silver medal for mural decoration at the Saint Louis Exposition in Missouri.

July 17: Attends dedication ceremony at First Church of Christ Scientist in Concord, New Hampshire where she sees Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, ride by in a carriage. Afterwards Oakley makes two portraits of Mrs. Eddy from memory.


July 22: Hester dies during an outbreak of typhoid fever in Brooklyn.

December: Oakley exhibits five panels for the Governor’s Reception Room at PAFA and receives a gold medal at the academy’s 100th anniversary celebration.


May: Oakley, Smith, Green, and Cozens relocate to Cogslea, a nineteenth-century property in the West Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, which was renovated by architect Frank Miles Day at the request of Dr. George Woodward.

November: Oakley’s mural series The Founding of the State of Liberty Spiritual is installed in the Governor’s Reception Room at the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

1907 Completes mural commission Heroism, Sacrifice, Service for the Henry Memorial Library of Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia.

Commissioned by Gertrude Woodward to make the Wise and Foolish Virgins stained glass windows for Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Germantown, Philadelphia.

October: Designs floats for Founder’s Day Pageant in Philadelphia.


January: Commissioned by Frank Miles Day to design murals and a stained glass dome for the Charlton Yarnall residence in Philadelphia.

August: Travels to England and Italy for five months to prepare the Yarnall commission.


January: Returns from Europe.

Commissioned to paint portraits of Sarah Bates Lawrence and William Van Duzer Lawrence, founder of Sarah Lawrence College in 1926.


January: Completes the Charlton Yarnall house commission The Building of the House of Wisdom.

June 3: Elizabeth Shippen Green and Huger Elliott (1877–1948), Director of Rhode Island School of Design, marry at Cogslea and move to Providence, Rhode Island.

August 1: Edwin Austin Abbey (1852–1911), chief muralist of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, dies before completing the Senate Chamber and the Supreme Court Room.

Oakley is commissioned to paint mural of the Constitutional Convention in the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland.

November: Awarded commission for the Senate Chamber and the Supreme Court Room of the Pennsylvania State Capitol.


Commissioned by Robert J. Collier to design The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, a stained glass window for his residence on Park Avenue in New York.

October: Travels in England and Italy for six months to prepare capitol murals.

1912 Teaches mural painting class at PAFA (until 1917).

Edith Emerson, a student in Oakley’s mural painting class at PAFA, wins a Cresson Fellowship to travel abroad but is forced to return to the United States when World War I breaks out.

1915 Oakley is awarded the gold medal of honor for The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (February–December).
1916 Completes Constitutional Convention mural for the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland.

February 12: Dedication of Senate Chamber mural series The Creation and the Preservation of the Union on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

April 30: Oakley’s mother, Cornelia, dies.

1918 Oakley receives honorary doctorate of letters from Delaware College. Invites Edith Emerson, who had been working as her studio assistant, to live with her at Cogslea.

Commissioned by Edward W. Bok to create the design for the Philadelphia Award.

Develops The Opening of the Book of the Law mural series for the Supreme Court Room of the Pennsylvania State Capitol.


Awarded Philadelphia Prize at PAFA for her posthumous portrait of Corporal Henry Howard Houston Woodward, a pilot who died in World War I.

Publishes The Holy Experiment portfolio with color plates of the mural series in the Governor’s Reception Room and the Senate Chamber of the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

1923 Creates The Great Wonder: A Vision of the Apocalypse, a memorial triptych for her sister Hester Oakley Ward in the Vassar College Alumnae House.
1924 Commissioned to design the seal for Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia.

Commissioned to design the seal for newly founded Sarah Lawrence College.

May–November: Exhibits Supreme Court Room murals for the Pennsylvania State Capitol at the Sesquicentennial International Exposition.


May: Completes the Supreme Court Room murals.

June: Departs for Geneva with Edith Emerson to attend the 8th, 9th, and 10th assemblies of the League of Nations in the autumns of 1927–29.


Resides in Florence and works on The Life of Moses reredos commissioned by Samuel S. Fleisher.

March–April: Joins Dr. George and Gertrude Woodward on trip through North Africa and Greece.

1932 Awarded the Joseph Pennell Memorial Medal from the Philadelphia Water Color Club for distinguished work in the graphic arts.
1933 Publishes Law Triumphant portfolio with color plates of the murals in the Supreme Court Room and portraits of the delegates to the League of Nations.
1934 Illustrates the Christian Science Monitor, Christian Science Sentinel, and the Christian Science Journal.
1937 December–April 1938: In Rome for exhibition of Geneva Drawings at Palazzo  Antici-Mattei.

Awarded the Walter Lippincott Prize for her posthumous portrait of Quita Woodward.

Summer: Opens Cogslea Academy of Arts and Letters at Lake George, New York, with Edith Emerson.


Awarded the Emily Drayton Taylor Medal from the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters for Distinguished Service to Art.

1941–45: Designs twenty-five portable triptychs for the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy to be placed in military chapels during World War II.

1945 1945–49: Commissioned to create mural series Great Women of the Bible in Pastoral Aid Society Room of the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, Philadelphia.
1946 Commissioned by the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin to make portrait drawings of the delegates to the United Nations in New York.

Awarded Mary Smith Prize at PAFA’s annual exhibition for Jesus and the Woman of Samaria at Jacob’s Well, a mural panel from the Great Women of the Bible series 

Receives honorary doctorate of laws from the Drexel Institute of Technology.

1949 Attends Moral Re-Armament assembly at Mountain House in Caux, Switzerland, and draws portraits of delegates.

Governor James H. Duff designates Oakley a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania for extraordinary service and contributions to the Commonwealth.

Publishes The Holy Experiment: Our Heritage from William Penn, 1644–1944.

1954 1954–56: Commissioned to make mural of George Fox on Pendle Hill, 1652 for Westtown Friends School in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
1955 Publishes Cathedral of Compassion: A Dramatic Outline of the Life of Jane Addams 1860–1935 with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
1956 Attends conference at the Moral Re-Armament Center on Mackinac Island, Michigan.
1961 February 25: Dies at High Oaks Christian Science Nursing Home in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia.
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