• Tue, Jul 17 2012

Shelved Dolls: Evelyn Nesbit – The Victorian Courtney Stodden?

In New York, Evelyn made a living posing for various postcards, like this one below:

evelyn nesbit kiss

People sometimes mistakenly refer to these as french postcards. They weren’t. French postcards involved nudity, while these, called mignon, were supposed to be wholesome yet sensual depictions of young women. It was a bit like the difference between posing for Maxim and Playboy.

She became wildly successful. She appeared on the cover of many women’s magazines that still exist today, including Vanity FairHarper’s Bazaar, the Women’s Home CompanionLadies’ Home Journal and Cosmopolitan. She became one of the first true covergirls, and her image was soon being used to sell everything from Coca-Cola to life insurance.

She also posed for very notable artists, like Charles Gibson, as the quintessential “Gibson Girl.” (Gibson Girls were considered the great beauties of the period). His most famous work, “The Eternal Question” – in which a woman’s hairstyle is fashioned into the shape of a question mark – features Evelyn.

One day, when modeling for Gibson she met a man who exclaimed, “”By Jove, Gibson! Who is this little vision of the empyrean blue? Tell me; I must know the little sprite, whether she is of this earth or just a fairy from out of Wonderland.”

He really said that. At least, that is what is recorded about their introduction. Never mind that no one else at the time talked that way, and it sounds like a bad Lifetime movie take on how people at the turn of the century talked.

That man was Stanford White.

He was, almost certainly, the most famous architect of the period, just as Evelyn was one of its great beauties.

More than that, though, Stanford White was a man with a silly mustache. Are you ready for his silly mustache?

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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?