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The Red Rose Girls

March 26, 2013

At an old estate in Villanova know as The Red Rose Inn, three female artists began a journey together.  Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Jessie Wilcox Smith were close friends and successful illustrators that captivated early 20th century society with their brilliant art and unconventional communal lifestyle.  They shared a living space that allowed them to concentrate on their work and draw inspiration, ideas, and love from one another.  The brilliant careers and interesting lifestyles of these three women brought them much attention.  Their arrangement did not conform to strict Victorian social norms, however they vowed they would live together forever and not marry.

After being urged to move to the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill area by Dr. George Woodward, developer, the ladies soon found themselves living high above the Cresheim Creek on St. Georges Road.  Their friend Henrietta Cozens joined them, helping to manage the house, which they named “Cogslea” after their four surnames: Cozens, Oakley, Green, and Smith.

In June of 1911, a major change came to the household.  Elizabeth Shippen Green fell in love with a man and married, breaking the vow the women had made to each other.  Soon after Green’s marriage, a distraught Violet Oakley decided she wanted more separation at Cogslea and she purchased the adjacent property.  Loyal to her housemates, Oakley had another cottage built for Jessie Wilcox Smith and Henrietta Cozens.  Jessie and Henrietta named their new home Cogshill and lived their for the rest of their lives.  In 1918 Oakley’s companion, Edith Emerson who was a painter and an artist, moved in and they lived together for over forty years until Oakley’s death in 1961. Emerson, who was a founder and curator at Woodmere Museum, lived out her life at Lower Cogslea, 627 St. George’s Road, until her death in 1981.

Violet Oakley, the most successful of the three, is known for murals and magazine illustrations. Her most famous murals are in the Pennsylvania State Capitol, depicting the principles of Quaker and Pennsylvania founder, William Penn.  In Germantown you can see the work of Violet Oakley at The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, where she painted the mural Great Women of the Bible.

All three women were accomplished illustrators whose work appeared in publications such as Harper’s, Collier’s and Ladies Home Journal.  Violet Oakley’s studio on St. Georges Road was added to the National Register of Historic Places in in 1977.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 28, 2013 2:17 am

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