(Nov. 16, 1895-June 29, 1917). Ollie Jackson, the first African American woman student at the John Herron Art Institute, was born to Carrie Ricks and Thomas Jackson in Illinois. As a child, she lived with her uncle and aunt, Robert and Jennine English, in Palo Alto, California.

In 1904, when Ollie was nine years old, the San Francisco Chronicle awarded her a paint box as a prize for correctly answering questions to a puzzle, which sparked her interest in art. After finishing her common school education in California in 1909, Jackson moved to Indianapolis to live with her mother and stepfather, Charles Lash, in the Millersville neighborhood, northeast of the present location of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Jackson enrolled in drawing and painting day classes as a full-time student at the John Herron Art Institute in 1911. Hoosier Group artist William Forsyth and painter Clifton A. Wheeler taught classes in which Jackson enrolled. Both instructors praised the quality of Jackson’s work. She remained at Herron during the 1912-1913 school year after winning a scholarship in drawing and painting in June 1912. Well-known classmates included John Wesley Hardrick and Roy A. Ketcham, who also won a drawing and painting scholarship in 1912, and Carl C. Graf, the class monitor. That same year, Jackson exhibited her artwork at the annual student exhibition at Herron. Later, in January 1914, she exhibited charcoal drawings, still lifes, and watercolors alongside Hardrick at the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church.

Jackson moved to the Brightwood neighborhood in 1912 after her stepfather purchased a home there. In 1917, Jackson died from tuberculosis at her family’s home on Columbia Avenue. She was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

In spring 2022, a group of Herron alumni raised money to install a headstone at Ollie’s gravesite.

Revised May 2023

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