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The most beautiful women of the Edwardian era

Ian Harvey

Named after the fashionable Edward VII, a king who loved sport, parties and his many mistresses, the Edwardian era lasted from 1901 to 1910.

Although perceived as a leisurely period when women wore large hats and did not vote, the era was actually a time of prominent female writers and artists making their mark. In this list we share the stories of some of the most fascinating, and spectacularly gorgeous, Edwardian actresses, singers, and dancers.

8. Florence Evelyn Nesbit

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was an American chorus girl, actress, and artists’ model who became notorious because of a sensational murder trial. Born in 1884 in a small town near Pittsburgh, Nesbit began her career in her early teens.

Evelyn Nesbit, about 1900

Evelyn Nesbit, about 1900

She moved to New York, where she posed for artists such as James Carroll Beckwith, Frederick S. Church, and Charles Dana Gibson, who idealized her as the “Gibson Girl.” Nesbit’s husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, went on trial for murder after he shot the prominent architect Stanford White in 1906. America learned that White sexually assaulted Nesbit when she was 14, later becoming her “benefactor.” Thaw claimed, “I did it because he ruined my wife.”

7. Aida Overton Walker

Also known as Ada Overton Walker, the African-American vaudeville performer, actress, singer, and choreographer was called “the Queen of the Cakewalk.” The Cakewalk was a dance developed from the “prize walks” in the late 19th century in the South. Walker was born in 1880 and grew up in New York.

Aida Overton Walker

Aida Overton Walker

She’s best known for the 1912 dance “Salome,” which she performed at the Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre. It was her response to the fervor over the story of Salome at the time.

6. Ethel Clayton

Clayton was an American actress of the silent movie era, born in 1882. The brunette beauty became well known from the 1909 movie Justified.

Ethel Clayton

Ethel Clayton

Although her career was weakened by the coming of sound to motion pictures, Clayton remained in the movie industry, playing small parts, until she retired in 1948. She has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

5. Ethel Warwick

Born in 1882, Ethel Warwick was a British stage actress who also appeared in films. Before she became an actress, Warwick was a nude model, posing for James McNeill Whistler.

Ethel Warwick

Ethel Warwick

Her movies include The Bigamist, Bachelor’s Baby, Letting in the Sunshine, and The Magistrate. Warwick passed away in 1951 at the age of 69.

4. Maude Fealy

Maude Fealy’s career was one that survived the talkie era. Born in 1883, in Memphis, Tennessee, she appeared in a silent movie in 1911 and followed it with others.

After 1917, she didn’t perform in any films for some 14 years. She was a member of a company that toured the western half of the United States.

Actress Maude Fealy circa 1901

Actress Maude Fealy circa 1901

Fealy was also a successful playwright and co-wrote The Red Cap with the noted New York playwright and performer Grant Stewart. In the 1930s, she returned to film, playing smaller roles. She passed away at the age of 88 in Los Angeles, California.

3. Marie Doro

Among the most prominent Edwardian actresses was Marie Doro, born in 1882. First noticed by impresario Charles Frohman, who took her to Broadway, Doro started working for William Gillette of Sherlock Holmes’ fame.

Marie Doro

Marie Doro

Doro was a notably beautiful and witty woman who appeared in many films during her career, among which were The Morals of Marcus and Lost and Won. She died at age 74 and left almost $100,000 to the Actors’ Fund in her will.

2. Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper was one of the most successful actresses of her time. With seven decades on stage, the English actress, born in 1888, started her career as a teenager in musical comedy and pantomime, moving on to dramatic roles, and film work.

Gladys Cooper in fancy-dress costume

Gladys Cooper in fancy-dress costume

She was a manager of the Playhouse Theatre from 1917 to 1933, performing many parts. Later she was a favorite on the West End and the Broadway stage. She was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady.

She moved to Hollywood in the 1940s and was married three times. In her later years, Gladys moved back to England. She died in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.

1. Lily Elsie

Best known for her starring role in The Merry Widow in 1907, Lily Elsie was one of the most photographed women of the Edwardian period.  Elsie began as a child actress. As she grew older, she managed to build her reputation in a string of successful Edwardian musical comedies.

Lily Elsie – Postcard, postmarked Birmingham September 1909. Photo Credit

Lily Elsie – Postcard, postmarked Birmingham September 1909. Photo Credit

One newspaper article said, “Perhaps her face is nearer to that of Venus de Milo in profile than to any other famed beauty.”

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Elsie passed away in London at the age of 76.