• Tue, Jul 17 2012

Shelved Dolls: Evelyn Nesbit – The Victorian Courtney Stodden?

When her mother was working as a sales-clerk at  Wanamaker’s department store following the boardinghouse debacle, Evelyn encountered an artist who asked her to pose for him. She posed for hours for around $1. This was still considerably more than her mother was making, in part because, at the time, being an artist’s model was pretty scandalous stuff (check out this portrait of Evelyn by James Carroll Beckwith) and she was only 14.

Still, Evelyn was determined. She said, “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.” Evelyn’s mother vowed to watch over her closely and claimed “I never allowed Evelyn to pose in the all together [nude]“. Again, see above.

Evelyn’s mother continually proved herself to be pretty inept. While you hear a lot about constantly hovering chaperones at the turn of the century, you hear less about parents who completely left their daughters to do as they liked. Maybe because the results were so disastrous that novelists at the time were reluctant to write about them.

Fortunately, we’re past that “not writing about them” phase.

When her mother moved to New York, having heard it offered her greater opportunities for work (she planned to find employment as a seamstress), Evelyn made use of the names offered to her by Philadelphia artists she’d posed for. She soon became successful in a way her mother couldn’t have dreamed of.

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  • Lana Kane

    Excellent post. A great read. Evelyns story is quite remarkable and stuff like this happened at that time…..but Courtney?? Wow. Her mom is an epic failure and Courtney is not really beautiful as a person inside or out….plus its not Victorian America. It’s 2012 where women CAN become doctors and lawyers!

  • Starofthemag

    “But how, exactly, did the work for Evelyn herself?”

    Great writing but you missed this at the bottom of page 1.
    It should read “…did that work for…”

    This message is brought to you in part by Efforts in Homework Avoidance, which is also the title of everything in my life today.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Thank you, team. If I had 40 Million dollars, I would hire a damn copyeditor.

  • Ashley Cardiff

    BY JOVE! NOTHING COULD HAVE MADE ME READY FOR THAT MUSTACHE!

  • Larissa

    I LOVE this series. If you made it into a book, i’d buy it for damn sure. Just sayin!

    • Amy

      Agreed!

  • Nikki

    WOW! Awesome post! I’m not sure how this may relate to Courtney’s future, hopefully a better one than poor Evelyn’s. Only time will tell…

  • Ewa

    Great read, and – let me repeat – a very interesting series.

  • Alison

    I want more Shelved Dolls! The women you chose and the stories you tell are just so fascinating. Quit doing everything else and just write about interesting/tragic women from days gone by…I’ll be thrilled.

  • Marissa

    Wow. She kinda looks like Margaret Schroeder from Boardwalk Empire.

  • Alle C

    I LOVE THIS STORY SO MUCH, and this is such a fantastic article. Well done! Mustaches off to you!

  • Ellen W.

    I didn’t know about the chorus girls!! I mean, I knew Thaw was odd and not that nice but I had NO IDEA about how horrible he was.

    Team Evelyn indeed.

  • Anna

    Great post, but I wish the whole Courtney Stodden thing was left out. I mean that’s ridiculous. Courtney Stodden isn’t one of the “great beauties” out there . Comparing the two is just irritating.

  • Chelsea

    That is one beautiful woman!!! I need to see that movie about her life, especially since they involved her in the production.

    OH and that small cabin would be a bit over $46,000 today. Still not a lot of money in terms of a home for a family.

  • Cheryl (carol, cristal) Tunt

    This was a great article and an excellent read. I really just wanted to know more and more. On a psychological level, it was fascinating to read about this poor girl obviously suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD (after the rape and again after the beatings) and that she overcome all of this in the end… I want to see more interesting, historical articles like this!

  • Kj

    “A disguised Napoleon revealing himself to a near-sighted veteran on Elba could not have made the revelation with greater aplomb.”

    Is this meant to be the turn of the century version of an alliterative tweet? I knew they had higher standards then, but …seriously

  • andrea

    holy cow these staples ads are irritating.

  • xoxoxoBruce

    The newspaper you show says he was shot in the back, not in the face. But good story all in all. Kudos.

    • Jennifer Wright

      That’s actually quite interesting – many of the newspapers reported the story inaccurately because they were, understandably rushing to turn it in before their competition. I think that headline might be a symptom of that. Most of the biographies (listed at the end) agree that Stanford was shot in the face, though the complete NY Times report from the period says that he was shot in the temple (http://www.nytimes.com/specials/ragtime/white.html) which seems closer to face than “back of head” but I suppose it’s fair to say simple that he was certainly shot in the head.

  • michael curtis

    “She’s often regarded as something of the Courtney Stodden of the Victorian age…”

    WTF?? Since when?

  • Liana

    Great read Jennifer! Did she have any children and did she find any more love after all this?

  • andyarnette

    Evelyn said she was about 8 when her father died.
    I had to look-up Courtney Stodden to see who she was. In no way could anyone make that comparison. Evelyn never even wore lipstick, except on stage? She new nothing of sex, never posed without her mother and never did anything to compromise her image…she had no desire to ever marry but was bullied into it. Oh and she was asleep in the famous ‘Butterfly photo’ so hardly posing?