Photograph of Evelyn Nesbit by Gertrude Kasebier (1900)

Evelyn Nesbit was considered by many to be the most beautiful and most notorious young woman in 1906 American when she was just 22 years old. By then, she had been famous for slightly over six years, beginning just around the time this photograph was taken (by arguably the most famous female photographer of the period).

Before 1906, Evelyn had already achieved fame as an early supermodel, first for painters and illustrators, then for photographers. Evelyn modeled for artists such as Frederick Church, illustrators such as Charles Dana Gibson, and for products such as toothpaste, face cream, beer trays and postcards. Nesbit then became a Floradora girl on Broadway, but quickly graduated to a featured role in a Broadway musical, moving out of the chorus and into the awareness of a number of influential men, including John Barrymore and Stanford White.

White was a leading American architect, one of the men changing the look of American homes for the rich and public buildings like universities, theatres, train stations, and civic halls. White was 47 and Evelyn was 16 when they met, and with her mother’s blessing, began an affair.

A few years later, Evelyn married Harry K. Thaw, a Pittsburgh playboy who was mentally unstable. In 1906, Thaw killed White at the rooftop dinner-theatre of the old Madison Square Garden (deisgned by White) and launched “the trial of the century,” as it was dubbed. Thaw went to a mental hospital (after 2 trials) but was later released, Evelyn was shunned and broke by the end of it, and, of course, White was dead.

This is Evelyn in 1901, photographed by Rudolphe Eickemeyer.

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