The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit (December 25, 1884 - January 17, 1967) was a model noted for her entanglement in the murder of her ex-lover, architect Stanford White, by her husband, Harry K. Thaw.

1901 photograph by Rudolf Eickemeyer (Larger version)
1901 photograph by Rudolf Eickemeyer (Larger version)

Born in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, her family was left destitute when her father, a lawyer, died. Fortunately, Evelyn was an exceptional beauty. As a teenager, she posed for an artist, John Storm , in Pittsburgh, and achieved some measure of success. In 1901, at age 16, now the family breadwinner, she decided they would move to New York to further her career. She continued modelling, posing for Frederick C. Church and Charles Dana Gibson and photographer Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr. .

Now a Florodora Girl on Broadway, she caught the attention of Stanford White. The fact that he was married and made a hobby of "befriending" young ladies was overlooked by Evelyn's mother, who encouraged White's patronage. In his lavish tower apartment at Madison Square Garden, which he built, he had installed a red velvet swing from which he derived sexual pleasure watching his young friends -- including Evelyn -- use (Nesbit would be sensationalized as "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing"). White allegedly took her virtue there after giving her a drink that knocked her out -- a claim she repeated often to her eventual husband, though at the end of her life she claimed "Stanny" was the only man she ever loved. White arranged to have her educated at a New Jersey boarding school run by the mother of Cecil B. DeMille.

Her involvement with White continued off and on. During this period, Evelyn was courted by a young actor named John Barrymore after her affair to White ended. She became pregnant by Barrymore twice, and he arranged for abortions both times. (Nesbit refused Barrymore's marriage proposal during her second pregnancy). Both abortions were explained as appendectomies, though a second appendectomy strains credulity.

Stanford was eventually supplanted in her affections by Harry Kendall Thaw (1871-1947), also of Pittsburgh, son of a coal and railroad baron. Thaw became increasingly jealous of Nesbit (he carried a pistol), and was especially sensitive about her relationship with White. Thaw was also a sexual sadist, and subjected Evelyn to beatings. After a trip to Europe, Evelyn accepted Thaw's proposal and they married on April 4, 1905.

On June 25, 1906 Evelyn and Harry saw White at a restaurant (the Cafè Martin) and ran into him again in the audience of the Madison Square Garden's roof theatre at a performance of Mamzelle Champagne. During the song, "I Could Love A Million Girls", Thaw fired three shots at close range into White's face, killing him.

There were two trials. At the first, the jury was deadlocked: at the second, Thaw pled insanity, and Evelyn testified. (Thaw's mother told Evelyn that if she would testify that Stanford White abused her and that Harry only tried to protect her, she'd receive a divorce from Harry Thaw and one million dollars in compensation. She did just that, and performed in court wonderfully: he was found not guilty. Evelyn got the divorce, in 1915, but not the money). Thaw was incarcerated at the Asylum for the Criminally Insane at Matteawan, New Jersey, enjoying nearly complete freedom. In 1913 he walked out of the asylum and was driven over the border to Sherbrooke, Quebec. He was extradicted back to the United States, and in 1915 another jury found him sane.

Thaw moved back to Pittsburgh, and his subsequent life was also filled with scandalous brawls, affairs, and lawsuits. He died of a heart attack in February 22, 1947 at his home in Miami Beach, Florida; he had another home, Villa Marie Antoinette, in Bolton, New York. His will stipulated that his former wife was to receive $10,000 of his more than $1 million estate. If she did not survive him, the money was to go to her son, Russell William Thaw (see below).

After the trial, Evelyn Nesbit Thaw's career was largely unsuccessful (vaudeville performer, actor, dancer, café manager) and her life marred by suicide attempts. She married again in 1916, in Ellicott City, Maryland, taking Virgil James Montani (1880-1956, professional name Jack Clifford, her dancing partner) as her second husband; he abandoned her in 1918 and she eventually divorced him in 1933. In 1926, however, several months after she attempted suicide over losing her job as a dancer at the Moulin Rouge Café in Chicago, she reappeared in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she gave an interview to the New York Times, stating that she and Harry K. Thaw had become reconciled and planned to resume their former relationship; however, nothing came of the couple's reported plans.

Evelyn Nesbit eventually died in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California, at age 82. In her later years, she taught ceramics and served as a technical consultant to a 1955 movie about the White shooting, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing , in which she was portrayed by Joan Collins. She was also portrayed by Elizabeth McGovern in the movie Ragtime.

Evelyn had one child, Russell William Thaw (October 25, 1910 - 2002), a noted aviator who sometimes appeared in Hollywood films; the identity of his father remains in doubt. Harry Thaw swore he was not the child's father, although Evelyn always insisted he was.


  • The Architect of Desire - Suzannah Lessard (White's great-granddaughter)
  • Glamorous Sinners - Frederick L. Collins
  • Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White: Love and Death in the Gilded Age - Michael Mooney
  • The Murder of Stanford White - Gerald Langford
  • The Traitor - Harry K. Thaw
  • "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing" - Charles Samuels
  • "The Story of my Life" - Evelyn Nesbit Thaw - 1914
  • "Prodigal Days" - Evelyn Nesbit Thaw - 1934

Fictional works based at least in part on the Thaw/White murder

  • The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing -1955
  • Ragtime (novel) by E. L. Doctorow; in turn was adapted to create the two below works:
  • "Dementia Americana" - A long narrative poem by Keith Maillard - 1994

External links

  • "Harry Thaw's trial" Scans of a dinner program with Jurists autographs March 1907
  • [1]
  • [2]


  • The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing [4]
Last updated: 09-02-2005 11:59:41
The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy