|Born||Florence Evelyn Nesbit|
December 25, 1884
|Died||January 14, 1967 (aged 82)|
|Occupation||Model, chorus girl, actress|
In the early part of the 20th century, Nesbit's figure and face appeared frequently in mass circulation newspapers and magazine advertisements, on souvenir items, and calendars, making her a cultural celebrity. Her career began in her early teens in Philadelphia and continued in New York, where she posed for a cadre of respected artists of the era, including
Nesbit achieved worldwide notoriety when her husband, the multimillionaire
Nesbit was born Florence Evelyn Nesbit on December 25, 1884, in
Nesbit had an especially close relationship with her father, striving to please him with her accomplishments. Her father recognized his daughter's intellectual interests and encouraged her curiosity and self-confidence. Cognizant of her love of reading, he chose books for her to read and set up a small library for her. It contained diverse material, including fairy tales, fantasies, and books regarded as of interest to boys only—the "pluck and luck" stories that were popular in that era. When Nesbit showed an interest in music and dance, he encouraged her to take lessons in those areas. Although Nesbit's father displayed no outward favoritism toward either of his children, Nesbit knew that she was her father's "star".
The Nesbit family moved to Pittsburgh around 1893. By all accounts, her father, an unambitious attorney, was an affable man and a feckless manager of the family's finances. Her mother was an example of the Victorian woman, content to dedicate her adult life to the domestic responsibilities of running a household and raising children. Nesbit's father died suddenly at age 40 when she was 11, leaving the family penniless. They lost their home and watched as all their possessions were auctioned off to pay outstanding debts. Nesbit's mother was unable to find work to earn money using her dressmaking skills, and a protracted period of time followed where the family existed solely through the charity of friends. They lived a nomadic existence, sharing a single room in a series of boarding houses. To ease the financial burden, little Howard Nesbit was often sent to live with relatives or family friends for indeterminate periods of time.
Eventually, Nesbit's mother used donated funds to rent a house, intending to run her own boardinghouse. Loath to collect the boarders' rent herself, she forced that responsibility upon her 12-year-old daughter, certain that the girl's considerable prepubescent charm would easily coax money from the traveling salesmen and other transient males who constituted the establishment's core clientele. Many years later in 1915, Nesbit described this period in her family's misfortunes: "Mamma was always worried about the rent ... it was too hard a thing for her to actually ask for every week, and it never went smoothly." Even at such a young age, Nesbit recalled her discomfort with being the rent collector; instinctively, she sensed it was somehow inappropriate. Since Mrs. Nesbit lacked the temperament or savvy to run a boardinghouse, this attempt to provide her family with financial stability ultimately failed.
Under continuous financial distress which showed no prospect of improvement, Mrs. Nesbit moved to Philadelphia in 1898. She had acted on the encouragement of a friend, who advised her that relocation to Philadelphia could open opportunities for her employment as a seamstress. Evelyn and her brother Howard were sent to an aunt, and then transferred to a family in Allegany whose acquaintance their mother had made some years earlier.
Mrs. Nesbit obtained employment, not as a seamstress, but as a sales clerk, at the fabric counter of
This led to introductions to other artists in the Philadelphia area, and she became the favorite model of a group of respected, reputable illustrators, portrait painters, and stained-glass artisans. In later life, Nesbit explained: "When I saw I could earn more money posing as an artist's model than I could at Wanamaker's, I gave my mother no peace until she permitted me to pose for a livelihood."