Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit
Evelyn Nesbit 12056u.jpg
Käsebier, Gertrude (1903), Portrait (Miss N) (photograph)
Born
Florence Mary Nesbit

(1884-12-25)December 25, 1884, or (1885-12-25)December 25, 1885
DiedJanuary 17, 1967(1967-01-17) (aged 82)
NationalityAmerican
Other namesEvelyn Nesbit Thaw
OccupationModel, chorus girl, actress
Spouse(s)
ChildrenRussell William Thaw

Florence Evelyn Nesbit (December 25, 1884 or 1885 – January 17, 1967), known professionally as Evelyn Nesbit, was an American artists' model, chorus girl, and 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 in calendars, making her a 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 James Carroll Beckwith, Frederick S. Church, and notably Charles Dana Gibson, who idealized her as a "Gibson Girl". She had the distinction of being an early fashion and artists' model in an era when both fashion photography (as an advertising medium) and the pin-up (as an art genre) were just beginning their ascendancy.

Nesbit received further worldwide attention when her husband, the mentally unstable multimillionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, shot and killed the prominent architect and New York socialite Stanford White in front of hundreds of witnesses at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden on the evening of June 25, 1906, leading to what the press would call the "Trial of the Century". During the trial, Nesbit testified that five years earlier, when she was a stage performer at the age of 15 or 16, she had attracted the attention of White, who first gained her and her mother's trust, then sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious, and then had a subsequent romantic and sexual relationship with her that continued for some period of time.[1][2][3]

Early life

Nesbit was born Florence Mary Nesbit on December 25, 1884, or December 25, 1885, in Tarentum, a small town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[4] In her childhood, she was primarily known as Florence Evelyn. The year of her birth remains unconfirmed, as the local records were later destroyed in a fire, and Evelyn herself said she was unsure of it; some sources have put the year as 1884, some as 1885, and it could even have been something else.[5] In later years, Nesbit confirmed that her mother at times added several years to her age to circumvent child labor laws.[6][page needed][7][page needed]

She was the daughter of Winfield Scott Nesbit and his wife, Evelyn Florence (née McKenzie), and was of Scots-Irish ancestry. Two years later, a son named Howard was born to the family.[8] Her father was an attorney and her mother attended to the domestic duties of the household.

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.[9]

The Nesbit family moved to Pittsburgh around 1893. Nesbit's father died suddenly at age 40 when she was 10 or 11 years old, leaving the family penniless. They lost their home and 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 and relatives. 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.[9]

Nesbit's mother was given some money and rented a house to use as a boardinghouse for a source of income, and sometimes assigned to the young Evelyn (aged about 12) the duty of collecting the rent from boarders. In her 1915 memoir, Nesbit later recalled that "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." Mrs. Nesbit lacked the temperament or savvy to run a boardinghouse, and the venture failed.[10]

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.[11]

Mrs. Nesbit obtained employment, not as a seamstress, but as a sales clerk, at the fabric counter of Wanamaker's department store. She sent for her children, and both 14-year-old Evelyn and 12-year-old Howard also became Wanamaker employees, working 12-hour days, six days a week. At this time, Nesbit's modeling career began, through a chance encounter with an artist who was struck by the teenager's beauty and evocative charm. The artist asked Nesbit to pose for a portrait, and after verifying that the artist was a woman, Mrs. Nesbit agreed to let her daughter pose. Nesbit sat for five hours and earned one dollar (equivalent to approximately $27.50 in 2016).[12]

This led to introductions to other artists in the Philadelphia area, and she became a favorite model for 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."[13]

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Afrikaans: Evelyn Nesbit
العربية: إيفلين نسبيت
Deutsch: Evelyn Nesbit
español: Evelyn Nesbit
français: Evelyn Nesbit
italiano: Evelyn Nesbit
Nederlands: Evelyn Nesbit
português: Evelyn Nesbit
Simple English: Evelyn Nesbit