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Kansas State Capitol - Fedeli murals

Kansas State Capitol Stories, Telephone GirlsThe original murals that once surrounded the upper rotunda, at right, were created by artist Jerome Fedeli. Hired by the Populist Party in 1898, Fedeli's paintings would become the subject of political scrutiny. Populist candidates had been elected in 1896, defeating many Republicans and Democrats. The Populists claimed to represent the common people. They were often the subjects of jokes and referred to as "hay seeds." 

The majestic upper dome offered a prominent space for artwork in the newly finished Capitol. In March 1898 Jerome Fedeli, a Republican, received the contract for $1,562.72 for murals in the upper dome. Fedeli had created many frescoes in Kansas City and had also been involved as a mediator in labor relations between the Missouri Pacific Railroad and Italian laborers.

Fedeli's concept was a conventional Greek design with maidens encircling the area between the fifth floor and the railed level of the dome. Fedeli engaged his son, Edward, and five workers to paint the 16 figures. A garland of flowers and vases with ornamental flowers connected the figures. The job was completed in three months. Fedeli reportedly netted $500.

Rotunda mural today

The maidens became the subject of ridicule, which critics called  "nude telephone girls." Republicans regained the majority and governorship in 1902, and support grew to replace the Populists' artwork. 

Lilla Day Monroe of Ellis County lived in Topeka at the time and led the fight.  Monroe said she had been "long active in the fight for suffrage and many activities of special concern to women and children." She helped to ensure the passage of an appropriation of $7,600 for new murals. Abner Crossman with the Chicago firm of Crossman and Sturdy was contracted to cover over the "scantily dressed girls" with the allegorical paintings of fully clothed subjects we see today. 

A newspaper of the day reported, "But fate was kind, for the artist (Fedeli) died a few months before his panel of singularly harmless and conventional Grecian maidens fell before the scrapers touch."

Entry: Kansas State Capitol - Fedeli murals

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2009

Date Modified: January 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.