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Evelyn Nesbit
1903 photograph by Gertrude Käsebier
Florence Evelyn Nesbit

(1884-12-25)December 25, 1884, or (1885-12-25)December 25, 1885
Died January 17, 1967(1967-01-17) (aged 82)
Other names Evelyn Nesbit Thaw
Occupation Model, chorus girl, actress
Harry Kendall Thaw
(m. 1905; div. 1915)
Jack Clifford
(m. 1916; div. 1933)
Children Russell William Thaw

Evelyn Nesbit (born Florence Evelyn Nesbit; December 25, 1884 or 1885 – January 17, 1967) was an American artists' model, chorus girl, and actress.

Early life

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was born on December 25, 1884, or December 25, 1885, in Natrona, Pennsylvania, a small town near Pittsburgh. 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 said she was unsure of it; some sources have put the year as 1884, some as 1885, and it may have been something else. In later years, Nesbit confirmed that her mother at times added several years to her age as a girl to circumvent child labor laws.

Nesbit was the daughter of Winfield Scott Nesbit and his wife, Evelyn Florence (née McKenzie), and was of Scots-Irish ancestry. Her father was an attorney and her mother was a homemaker. Nesbit later said that she had an especially close relationship with her father, and tried to please him by her accomplishments. Mr. Nesbit encouraged her curiosity and self-confidence. As she loved reading, he chose books for her and set up a small library for her use, consisting of fairy tales, fantasies, and also books regarded typically 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, her father encouraged her to take lessons.

The Nesbit family moved to Pittsburgh around 1893. When Nesbit was about 10, her father died suddenly at age 40, leaving the family penniless. Her family lost their home, and all their possessions were auctioned off to pay outstanding debts. Nesbit's mother was unable to find work using her dressmaking skills, and the family had to depend on the charity of friends and relatives. The family lived as nomads, sharing a single room in a series of boarding houses. Her mother often sent Nesbit's younger brother Howard to live with relatives or family friends for periods of time. Nesbit's mother was eventually given money to rent a house to use as a boardinghouse, in order to have a source of income. She sometimes assigned young Evelyn (aged about 12) to 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." Nesbit's mother 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. A friend had encouraged her, advising that relocation to Philadelphia could open opportunities for her employment as a seamstress. Evelyn and Howard were sent to an aunt and then transferred for care to a family in Allegany, whose acquaintance their mother had made some years earlier. Mrs. Nesbit indeed gained a job, 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 twelve-hour days for six days a week.

It was here that Nesbit had a chance encounter with an artist who was struck by her beauty. She asked Nesbit to pose for a portrait, which her mother agreed to. Nesbit sat for five hours and earned one dollar (equivalent to approximately $27.50 in 2016). She was introduced to other artists in the Philadelphia area, and became a favorite model for a group of 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."

Modeling career

Evelyn Nesbit
Photograph by Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr., 1901

In June 1900, Mrs. Nesbit, leaving her children in the care of others, relocated to New York City to seek work as a seamstress or clothing designer. However, she did not succeed in this competitive world. In November 1900, she finally sent for her children, although she had no work. The family shared a single back room in a building on 22nd Street in Manhattan.

Mrs. Nesbit finally used letters of introduction given by Philadelphia artists, contacting painter James Carroll Beckwith. His primary patron was John Jacob Astor. Beckwith was both a respected painter and instructor of life classes at the Art Students League. He took a protective interest in the young Nesbit, and provided her with letters of introduction to other legitimate artists, such as Frederick S. Church, Herbert Morgan, and Carle J. Blenner.

Mrs. Nesbit was forced to take on managing her daughter's career, proving unable to provide either business acumen or guardianship for her daughter.

Harvard Theatre Collection - Evelyn Nesbit TCS 2 (seq 33)
Nesbit photographed by Otto Sarony, 1902

Nesbit became one of the most in-demand artists' models in New York. Photographers Otto Sarony and Rudolf Eickemeyer were among those who worked with her. She was featured on the covers of numerous women's magazines of the period, including Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, The Delineator, Ladies' Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan. She also appeared in fashion advertising for a wide variety of products; and she was also showcased on sheet music and souvenir items – beer trays, tobacco cards, pocket mirrors, postcards, and chromolithographs. Nesbit often posed in vignettes, dressed in various costumes. She also posed for calendars for Prudential Life Insurance, Coca-Cola, and other corporations. Charles Dana Gibson, one of the country's most renowned artists of the era, used Nesbit as the model for one of his best-known "Gibson Girl" works. Titled Woman: The Eternal Question (c.1903), the portrait features her in profile, with her luxuriant hair forming the shape of a question mark.

Nesbit in 1901 (approximately at age 16)
Evelyn Nesbit playing card
Nesbit represents "The Queen of Hearts" on a playing card
Woman: the Eternal Question by Charles Dana Gibson, 1901

The use of photographs of young women in advertising, referred to as the "live model" style, was just beginning to be widely used and to supplant illustration. Nesbit modeled for Joel Feder, an early pioneer in fashion photography. She found such assignments less strenuous than working as an artist's model, as posing sessions were shorter. The work was lucrative. With Feder, Nesbit earned $5 for a half-day shoot and $10 for a full day – $352 per day in 2022 dollars. Eventually, the fees she earned from her modeling career exceeded the combined income which her family had earned at Wanamaker's department store. But the high cost of living in New York strained their finances.

Chorus girl and actress

Nesbit became disaffected and bored with the long hours spent in confined environments, maintaining the immobile poses required of a studio model. Her popularity in modeling had attracted the interests of theatrical promoters, who offered her acting opportunities. Nesbit pressed her mother to let her enter the theatre world, and Mrs. Nesbit ultimately agreed to let her daughter try this new way to augment their finances.

Nesbit won a part in The Wild Rose, which had just come to Broadway. After an initial interview with Nesbit, the show's producer, George Lederer, sensed he had discovered a new sensation. He offered her a contract for a year and, more significantly, moved her out of the chorus line and into a position as a featured player – the role of the Gypsy girl "Vashti". The publicity machine began to roll, possibly fueled by the influence of architect Stanford White, and she was hyped in the gossip columns and theatrical periodicals of the day. On May 4, 1902, The New York Herald showcased Nesbit in a two-page article, enhanced by photographs, promoting her rise as a new theatrical light, and recounting her career from model to chorus line to key cast member. The press coverage invariably touted her physical charms and potent stage presence; acting skills were rarely mentioned.


Stanford White by George Cox ca. 1892
Photograph of Stanford White by George Cox, c. 1892
Eickemeyer nesbit
Nesbit wearing flower wreath headband, by Rudolph Eickemeyer, 1903
Evelyn Nesbit Thaw by Bain News Service
Nesbit in a decorative setting, published in 1913
Evelyn Nesbitt circa 1903
Nesbit, c. 1903
Harry Kendall Thaw c.1905
Harry Kendall Thaw, married Nesbit in 1905
Thaw Home Cresson LOC13982v (cropped)
"Lyndhurst" (William and Mary C. Thaw mansion), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (demolished, c. 1942)

Nesbit married Harry Kendall Thaw, the son of a Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron, on April 4, 1905, in Pittsburgh. The two took up residence in the Thaw family home, Lyndhurst, in Pittsburgh. Nesbit divorced Thaw in 1915. When Thaw died in 1947, he bequeathed $10,000 to Nesbit from an estate valued at over $1 million.

Evelyn Nesbit and son, 1913
Evelyn Nesbit and son, Russell William Thaw, 1913

Nesbit gave birth to a son, Russell William Thaw, on October 25, 1910, in Berlin, Germany. Russell appeared with his mother in at least six films: Threads of Destiny (1914), Redemption (1917), Her Mistake (1918), The Woman Who Gave (1918), I Want to Forget (1918), and The Hidden Woman (1922). He became an accomplished pilot, placing third in the 1935 Bendix Trophy race from Los Angeles to Cleveland, ahead of Amelia Earhart in fifth place.

Later years

Evelyn Nesbit & Jack Clifford 01
Nesbit with her dance partner and second husband, Jack Clifford

Nesbit married her dance partner, Jack Clifford in 1916. The announcement was front page news. Beginning in 1913, the couple had toured with an extremely successful stage act. In August 1913, she gave a dance performance at New York City's Victoria Theater, reported as her first performance on the New York City stage since 1904. In November 1913, they packed the house at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater, drawing an overall audience of 7,400 at the venue, turning away hundreds. Their marriage did not fare as well. Clifford eventually left her in 1918. Their divorce was finalized in 1933.

Following her years in vaudeville, Nesbit transitioned to playing clubs and cabarets throughout the East, South, and Midwest.

Following Harry K. Thaw’s death in 1947, Nesbit left her home in New York City to settle in California. Her son, Russell W. Thaw, lived in West Los Angeles. She chose to live downtown in a Bohemian neighborhood located just north of Bunker Hill. There she pursued a long-standing interest in sculpting, studying at the Grant Beach School of Arts and Crafts. Following graduation in 1952, she taught classes in sculpting and ceramics.

Nesbit published two memoirs, The Story of My Life (1914) and Prodigal Days (1934).


Nesbit died in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California, on January 17, 1967, at the age of 82. She had been a resident there for more than a year. She was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Stage performances

  • Florodora (1901)
  • The Wild Rose (1902)
  • Tommy Rot (1902)


  • Threads of Destiny (1914)
  • A Lucky Leap (1916)
  • Redemption (1917)
  • Her Mistake (1918)
  • The Woman Who Gave (1918)
  • I Want to Forget (1918)
  • Woman, Woman! (1919)
  • Thou Shalt Not (1919)
  • A Fallen Idol (1919)
  • My Little Sister (1919)
  • The Hidden Woman (1922)
  • Broadway Gossip No. 2 (1932 short; as herself)

See also

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