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Violet Oakley

Violet Oakley, an important American muralist, was born in Bergen Heights in 1874.

She trained at the Arts Students League, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Academie Montparnasse in Paris. Oakley created oil paintings, stained glass windows, illustrations, and murals. The “Unity” frieze, a mural commissioned for the Pennsylvania State Capitol building, best expresses her vision of a peaceful world. At that time it was the largest mural commission ever awarded to a woman.

Oakley was also one of three women to receive the Gold Medal Award for distinguished service from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She received many commissions, including painting the first delegates of the League of Nations and the United Nations. Oakley’s illustrated books focus on the themes of world peace and human rights. She was a pacifist and a feminist.



Oakley, Violet. Cathedral of compassion: dramatic outline of the life of Jane Addams, 1860-1935. Philadelphia : Press of Lyon and Armor, Inc., 1955. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1303940.

 Van Hook, Bailey.Violet Oakley: An Artist’s Life. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2016.

Ricci, Patricia L. “Violet Oakley: American Renaissance Woman.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 126, no. 2 (2002): 217-248.

Rickey, Carrie. “The Exceptional Life and Political Art of Violet Oakley.” Hyperallergic. October 14, 2017. https://hyperallergic.com/405626/a-grand-vision-violet-oakley-and-the-american-renaissance-woodmere-museum-2017/


Questions to Explore

What was Oakley’s style of painting? What did she hope to achieve by making her paintings?

How did the Public receive Oakley’s paintings? Did her message get across to the public?

Additional Resources

Oakley Violet Patricia Likos Ricci Woodmere Art Museum William Penn Foundation and Wyeth Foundation for American Art. 2017. A Grand Vision : Violet Oakley and the American Renaissance. Philadelphia: Woodmere Art Museum. https://www.worldcat.org/title/1016453161

Oakley Violet and Mount Pleasant Press. 1906. The Founding of the “State of Liberty Spiritual” Representing the Triumph of the Idea of Liberty of Conscience in the Holy Experiment of Pennsylvania : With a Brief Account Describing the Cycle of the Frieze in the Governor’s Reception Room in the Capitol at Harrisburg Painted by Violet Oakley. Harrisburg Pa: Mount Pleasant Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/14262976

Buck Carol. 2012. “Violet Oakley American Artist Modern Day Activist.” Dissertation. https://www.worldcat.org/title/843116344