Florence Mary Nesbit
December 25, 1884, or December 25, 1885
|Died||January 17, 1967 (aged 82)|
|Other names||Evelyn Nesbit Thaw|
|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 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
Nesbit received further worldwide attention when her husband, the mentally unstable multimillionaire
Nesbit was born Florence Mary Nesbit on December 25, 1884, or December 25, 1885, in
She was the daughter of Winfield Scott Nesbit and his wife, Evelyn Florence (née McKenzie), and was of
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.
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.
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.
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 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."