Stanford White: Biography & Scandal

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

Saying 'trial of the century' brings to mind different cases for different people. Some think of OJ Simpson, some of the Mansons. The very first trial of the century is considered to be that of Harry Thaw, who killed a man named Stanford White.

A Scandalous End

Every grocery store checkout is full of sensational stories of celebrities and their lives. Whether true or not, rumors can quickly spread and the public laps it up. Seeing these heroes fall tells us their lives aren't as glamourous as they may seem. Such was the case with architect Stanford White, murdered by the husband of one of White's former lovers.

A Connected Beginning

Stanford White was born on November 9, 1853 in New York City. Although he didn't come from money, his academic father's connections helped him land a position as an assistant to the famous architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson would become famous for his style, which became known as the Richardsonian Romanesque. White worked with Richardson until 1880, when he joined two other men, Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead in creating their own architectural firm.

Stanford White
white

Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, and Stanford White
men

Famous Firm

The men became quite well known with their projects, designing mostly mansions in the shingle style. The shingle style Is just as it describes- buildings were covered in shingles instead of regular siding. This style can still be seen in buildings in coastal areas. During this time, white designed one of his most famous buildings, the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. The firm would also help bring about the trend towards Neoclassicism in architecture. White's styles would also embrace Renaissance ornamentation.

White would also go on to design many important structures in New York City. One is the Washington Memorial Arch, as well as the New York Herald Building, the original Madison Square Garden, and Madison Square Presbyterian Church. In addition to architecture, White also designed jewelry, furniture, and other decorations.

Washington Memorial Arch
arch

Stanford the Seducer

White married Bessie Smith in 1884. Despite being married, however, White was known to enjoy the company of much younger women, especially young chorus girls still in their teens. White's fame and money was attractive to many young girls- one of these was Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit
Nesbit

Nesbit was on the 'it' girls in the early 1900s. Her face was on many magazines, and was a model for many sculptors. Many of these sculptures can still be seen around New York. Nesbit met White in 1901. He put her and her mother in a fancy hotel in a room he had decorated himself. Nesbit was also a frequent visitor to one of White's many apartments. One of these included a red velvet swing that White encouraged Nesbit to swing on- naked. It was on one of these visits that White got Nesbit drunk and took advantage of her after she had passed out.

Nesbit knew that White couldn't marry her, so she had to find a bachelor with money. The man Nesbit ultimately accepted was the temperamental Harry Thaw.

Harry Thaw
thaw

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