Shelved Dolls: Evelyn Nesbit – The Victorian Courtney Stodden?

This is Harry Thaw. He looks scary in every picture. Seriously. This is the most normal picture of him.

Which was where she met Harry Thaw, heir to a 40 million dollar fortune in Pittsburgh.

Or rather, she met someone named “Mr. Munroe.” Harry introduced himself to Evelyn incognito, and sent her a lot of anonymous gifts. That was because he wanted her to love himself. That is how you make people love you for yourself. You make up a fake name and send a lot of gifts.

This would have been more effective if Evelyn had any idea who the Thaws were. She was 17. She wasn’t a debutante. She was from a tiny town in Pennsylvania. She had no idea who was famous and who wasn’t outside of the New York society that Stanford White introduced her to.

And Stanford White really didn’t like Harry Thaw. Harry was constantly ranting about how Stanford had him barred from all the best clubs in New York, though the extent to which this was just Harry’s paranoia at work is impossible to determine. I mean, not at the Union League Club, though. He was barred from the Union League Club because he rode a horse into its lobby. It is possible that Stanford asked that he not be admitted to other clubs, but that one, he just wrecked their lobby.

So when Harry finally exclaimed “I am not Mr. Munroe, I am Henry Thaw, of Pittsburgh!” which he meant to be a grand reveal, Evelyn was kind of like “whatever.” She later wrote, “A disguised Napoleon revealing himself to a near-sighted veteran on Elba could not have made the revelation with greater aplomb.”

Harry took that as proof that she loved him for himself alone.

At that point, Evelyn was dating a pretty nifty polo player named James Montgomery Waterbury (he was a member of the “big four” polo team at the time, and he was one of the big four. It would have been like Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio or Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady. Oh my God, she should have married James Montgomery Waterbury.)

But Harry offered her and her mother a trip to Europe, so, Evelyn decided to go on that.

Why? I don’t know why. She had just had her appendix out and she was promised it would be a good way to recuperate. Frankly, I wonder if she might have gone because she knew how much Stanford disliked Harry.

But before we talk about the trip, let’s talk a little bit more about Harry Thaw of Pittsburgh.

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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


    • Larissa

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

      • Amy


    • 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 ( 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?