American Experience



At the conclusion of the second trial, with the knowledge that my name and my life had been dragged through the mire, I sat down to reason out my position. And to assist the reasoning I had collected for me the records of every great criminal trial which had been heard in the past fifty years. There was invariably "a woman in the case." That goes without saying. It was the woman who interested me -- the woman guilty or innocent; temptress or victim. She and her future were immensely interesting to me. What happened to her when the trial was ended, when all the grim figures of tragedy had gone hence and the echoes of the case had ceased to reverberate? I spent time and money to find out. And my discoveries were of a depressing nature, for every woman had gone down, down, down. Drink, drugs, the hundred and one wild diversions which eclipse sorrow and soothe heartache had been pressed to service, and the poor light had flickered out dully and miserably. And this without exception. It was a shocking fact, but I faced it. Not only were these women the merest victims of fortune's caprice, but in the vast majority of cases the innocent victims. Their innocence did not save them from ignominy.

Said I to myself, "Evelyn Thaw, you shall do better than that."

The way of life is full of sharp twists and turnings, each of which reveal vistas which go to the changing of all previous conceptions, making almost nothing of the experiences of the past and demanding clamorously the exercise of new standards and newer and keener application for the future.

The first of turnings is that which led me to the studios, the second is that which led me to the stage, the third came sharply after my meeting with Stanford White, the fourth followed the tragedy, and the fifth was the birth of Russell.

I have endeavoured to avoid, in the course of this life, being in any way sentimental. For sentimentality I have the greatest horror, but I say this -- whatever be the tag that is attached to my utterance -- that a little child is the greatest and the most wonderful gift that life holds, and because of Russell Thaw I found a larger life confronting me. He brought me to a realisation of just where I stood in the world, and he called insistently for my return to work.

Evelyn Nesbit, The Story of My Life, 1914


Everything we do is known to the gods. Every act judged. We pay "to the utmost farthing" for any wrong, any evil. The moment we disturb the perfect balance in Nature -- Harmony -- we bring suffering upon ourselves. Everything in Nature has its opposite, as the great Pythagoras taught; positive-negative; male-female; vice-virtue; black-white; abstract-concrete; youth-old age... one could go on endlessly. There must always be a perfect balance between the two opposites. The moment we disturb that harmony, we cause trouble, suffering. All our suffering, pain, grief are caused by some violation of that immutable law governing the fundamental law of opposites. In this I believe...

Russell has been an ideal son always. He is quiet, hard-working and level-headed. He does not dissipate. If he has never known what it means to have too much money, it is just as well -- better so. Too much money might have spoiled, demoralized him in youth, laid waste the formative years and ruined his life. As it is, since the age of eighteen, he has earned his own living. Yes, it is better so.

We are friends as well as mother and son. I have been entirely frank with him, to avoid the mistakes my mother, in her Victorian prudishness, made with me. And having successfully raised Russell, I no longer feel that I have lived in vain.

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