Evelyn Nesbit’s ascent to famous model and glamorous chorus girl in the early 1900s follows the usual narrative.
Born poor in Pennsylvania in 1884, Evelyn was an attractive child who helped her family score extra money by working as an artist’s model.
By the time the Nesbits moved to New York City in 1901, she was an astoundingly beautiful 15-year-old who quickly found gigs posing for famous artists—including illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who used her as one of his “Gibson Girls.”
She also raked in a then-high $10 a day as a fashion model in newspaper ads, and she earned a place in the hit musical Floradora.
Through her showgirl connections, she was introduced to architect Stanford White in 1901. White, a womanizer then in his late 40s, was smitten.
One night, according to Evelyn, he showered her with attention, brought her to his apartment on West 24th Street, plied her with alcohol, and took her virginity after she’d passed out.
Though White remained in her life, Evelyn dated John Barrymore, then married Harry Thaw, the playboy son of a coal baron. She confided in Thaw about being “seduced” by White.
Thaw was obsessed with avenging his wife’s honor. On a June night in 1906, while the three were at the same theater performance at the White-designed Madison Square Garden, Thaw shot White in the head.
The slaying of the nation’s foremost architect and the scandal that surrounded it captivated the city. After his first murder trial ended in a hung jury, Thaw pleaded temporary insanity and was sent to a mental institution.
What happened to Evelyn? She testified on Thaw’s behalf, then divorced him in 1916. She tried her hand at vaudeville and in silent movies and wrote a few memoirs.
After slipping out of the limelight, she got married and divorced, taught ceramics, and survived suicide attempts and alcoholism.
She died in a nursing home in California in 1967 at the age of 82. “Stanny White was killed but my fate was worse. I lived,” she reportedly said.
Top: Evelyn at the height of her beauty, by Rudolph Eickemeyer; bottom: Evelyn in 1955 on the set of The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, a film based on her life starring Joan Collins.