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Violet Oakley Collection

Identifier: GTM-830515

Scope and Contents

Letters; manuscripts; and printed ephemera, including exhibition catalogs pertaining to American artist and muralist Violet Oakley (1874-1961). Includes letters to Edith Emerson (1888-1981), American artist and Oakley's life-long partner. Correspondents include other artists: Maxwell Armfield and Charles Hopkinson, as well as architect William Penn Cresson. Collection includes 7 glass plate negatives (Box 2) and 8 black and white photographs (Folder 1:10) of Oakley's drawings of international statesmen who attended League of Nations conferences in Geneva from 1928 to 1930 or were members of joint organizations such as the International Labor Office and United Nations: Harold Butler, Sir Willoughby Dickinson, Dame Rachel Crowley, Sir Cecil Hurst, Alice Sorabji Pennell, Arthur Sweetser, Albert Thomas.

Folders 1:7-1:9 contain manuscript notes and sketches by Oakley for her published works and illustrations: "Cathedral of Compassion: Dramatic Outline of the Life of Jane Addams 1860-1935"; "The Holy Experiment: A Message to the World from Pennsylvania"; "Christ at Geneva"; and "The Book of the Pageant."

Also included: 2 original ink and pencil "Chinese borders" by Edith Emerson (Folder 1:11).

Box 1 contains 13 books + 1 serial edition from Oakley's library: 5 inscribed by the authors; 5 inscribed as gifts; 3 personal books and edition of serial "The Pathfinder" (June 1911) featuring poetry of Florence Earle Coates. Some books contain with some holograph marginalia by Oakley.


  • 1900 - 1971
  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 1959


Conditions Governing Access

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Biographical / Historical

Painter, illustrator, muralist, and stained glass designer Violet Oakley was born in New Jersey, June 10, 1874. She was the first American woman to receive a public mural commission. She is best known for the series of murals she completed for the Pennsylvania State Capitol and her Renaissance-revival style of art with influence from the Pre-Raphaelites. Other significant works include murals, panels, and stained glass commissions completed for the Vassar College Alumni House, Charlton Yarnall House (Philadelphia), and Cuyahoga County Courthouse.

Oakley's political beliefs were shaped by William Penn (1644-1718) whose ideals she represented in her murals at the Pennsylvania State Capitol and in her book “The Holy Experiment: A Message to the World from Pennsylvania” (1922). She was committed to the Quaker principles of pacifism, equality of the races and sexes, economic and social justice, and international government. When the United States refused to join the League of Nations after the World War I, Oakley traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she spent three years drawing portraits of the League's delegates, later published as "Law Triumphant: the Opening of the Book of the Law and the Miracle of Geneva” (Philadelphia, 1932). She was also an early advocate nuclear disarmament after World War II.

Oakley was the first woman elected to the National Society of Mural Painters, was a recipient of the Gold Medal of Honor of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal of Honor from the Architectural League of New York.

Oakley died on February 25, 1961, in Philadelphia where she resided most of her lifetime. Her espousal of Victorian aesthetics resulted in the decline of interest in her work in the mid-twentieth century. However, in 1977, her studio in Philadelphia was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of her artistry.

Sources include: Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation and Wikipedia.


1.95 Linear Feet (2 boxes (including glass plate negative box))

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Nicholas B. Scheetz, circa 1986.

Violet Oakley Collection
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2024-04: Edited for DACS-compliance by John Zarrillo.

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057