American Experience
Meeting Stanford White



I met Stanford White at a supper party. He had a friend in the chorus, who invited me to meet him. It was no novel thing to meet new people - - it was, as I have made clear, a very usual circumstance, and I attached no importance to the outing, save that I was going to meet one of whom I had heard, and who, by all accounts, was a very clever man. And let me say here that cleverness in a man or a woman has always been the supreme attraction.

Never once in my life have I found the slightest pleasure in the commonplace -- a pleasure which is reserved entirely for those favoured folk who get a good amount of placid joy in finding things as they expect them, and expecting very little.

My first experience of Mr. White was that he was very unprepossessing, that he was very kindly, and that he was safe. He did not treat me with any great ceremony, but he was courteous, attentive, and took an interest in my life. There was something subtly flattering to me in this attention and interest, and I found myself listening to him with a satisfaction which few people have given to me.

He exercised an almost fatherly supervision over what I ate, and was particularly solicitous as to what I drank. He was mildly reproving, gently bantering, a man who kept one smiling with his own good humour or interested in his own experience. Everybody had spoken so well of him, and he was undoubtedly a genius in his art. He had met my mother and knew something of our history, and he was keenly interested in my adventures in the artistic world.

Evelyn Nesbit, The Story of My Life, 1914


The sudden plunge from that dingy street entrance into these room was breathtaking. The predominating color was a wonderful red, a shade I have always called Italian red. Heavy red velvet curtains shut out all daylight. There was plenty of illumination -- yet I could find no lights anywhere. Stanford White, you see, was the first man to conceal electric bulbs so that you could get only their glow. Indirect lighting is a common thing today, but then it was a startling innovation. Fine paintings hung on the walls; an exquisite nude I particularly remember by Robert Reid. The furniture was Italian antique, beautifully carved. There was a table set for four.

I sat down on one of the chairs, timid, shy, awed by the beauty and luxury of the room, and by the tall, impressive, smiling Stanford White. Edna Goodrich seemed perfectly at home. How I wished that I could be as nonchalant as she appeared to be!

Then another man entered the room, Reginald Ronalds. He seemed disappointingly old to me; and so, for that matter, was our host. On first impression, I considered the latter not a bit handsome. Girls of sixteen, when I was sixteen, wanted their men to be Byronesque, Don Juans -- just as all girls today search for some movie star's features in their boy friends.

During luncheon I tasted champagne for the first time. I was permitted one glass, no more. But something else intoxicated me more than wine... the fact that the two men made much over me; their frank admiration made me feel grown-up.

Evelyn Nesbit, Prodigal Days, 1934

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1 -- Artist's Model In New York 2 -- Meeting Stanford White 3 -- The Red Swing 4 -- Confession To Thaw 5 -- The Murder 6 -- The Call To Testify 7 -- Aftermath