Close your eyes and think of the most beautiful girl from the early 1900s. Chances are, you imagine a girl who looks just like our Monday Muse, Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit is the most classic of classic beauties.
Nesbit’s life contains every piece of a good story. There’s hardship, romance, a love triangle, scandal, and *gasp* murder! What else do you need?
Evelyn Nesbit is believe to have been born on December 25, 1884 in Pennsylvania. Her actual year of birth is unknown, because her mother had added several years to her age to get around child labor laws. Nesbit grew up penniless. Her father passed suddenly when she was only eleven years old and left her, her brother, and her mother unable to support themselves and without a home. They watched their house and possessions get auctioned off to pay debts. Over time, Nesbit’s mother worked at a department store, where Evelyn was first discovered. A stranger asked if he could paint her, and she made a dollar for posing for five hours.
When Nesbit’s mother moved her and her brother to New York City in June of 1900s, Evelyn’s career was started. She soon became one of the most wanted models of New York City. She was on the cover of Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, and many other women’s magazines. She later became known as the “Gibson Girl” and “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing”.
In 1901, when she was a Broadway girl, Evelyn met Stanford White. At the time he was 47 year old, and Evelyn was 16. One night Evelyn and her friend, Edna Goodrich, joined White to have lunch at his apartment. It is said to have been extremely extravagant. Within this rendezvous Evelyn had one glass of champagne, and the three innocently played a game where White pushed Evelyn on a red velvet swing as Goodrich held a parasol for Evelyn to shred with her foot. Several nights later, Evelyn and White were together in his apartment. Evelyn had many glasses of champagne to drink that night. The same room that had the velvet swing now had a green sofa and walls covered with mirrors. Her last memory of that night was that she changed into a yellow satin kimono. She woke up the next morning fully undressed in bed with White.
The next year Evelyn met John Barrymore, “Jack” from The Wild Rose. A romance blossomed between the two of them, and Barrymore proposed to Evelyn. She did not accept the proposal. There is suspicion that later Evelyn had two abortions from a baby she would have had with Barrymore. Barrymore was not the only person Evelyn had a relationship with, she also was seeing Harry Kendall Thaw. Throughout her relationship with these two, White still kept a presence in Evelyn’s life. After some time, Thaw wanted Evelyn to be his wife. Knowing his opinion about chastity, Evelyn told Thaw about the night she had with White. At that time she exposed every detail about her secret relationship with White and of that night.
Evelyn later married Harry Thaw. The scandal between Evelyn and White eventually lead to Thaw murdering Stanford White on stage during the finale of “I Could Love a Million Girls”. It was reported that right before Thaw shot White he proclaimed “You ruined my life!”, but others say he yelled, “You ruined my wife!”. The trial for this case became known as “The Trial of the Century”.
Evelyn lived a long life. On top of everything she accomplished in the early 1900s, she had an eventful later life. She had a child, divorced Thaw, remarried, was a proprietor of a tearoom in Manhattan, and inherited a large amount of money from Thaw when he passed. Around World War II she moved to Los Angeles, where she taught ceramics and sculpting at the Grant Beach School of Arts and Crafts. At the age of 82 she died at a nursing home in Santa Monica, California.
Thanks for sharing her story. So fascinating!