The Most Beautiful Women of the Early 1900s

Katie Vernon
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The Edwardian era is the period between 1901 and 1910, named after King Edward VII of Great Britain, the most fashionable royal of the century who demanded extreme glamour.

Even though it was a period where societal norms for women were quite different than they are today, with women’s fight for political equality in its infancy, it was actually a time when many prominent female artists and writers left their mark. Here are some of those successful artistic women from the Edwardian era.

Florence Evelyn Nesbit

She was born in 1884 near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By her teenage, Evelyn Nesbit was already a charming and beautiful girl who quickly gained in popularity as a model, actress, and chorus girl, and socialized with people from the artistic and theatrical circles in New York City.

Evelyn Nesbit by Otto Sarony.

However, she became remembered for the so-called “Trial of the Century,” when her husband Harry Kendall Thaw killed the renowned architect Stanford White.

Miss N (Portrait of Evelyn Nesbit), 1903.

Thaw was an heir to a multi-million dollar mining and railroad fortune but had a history of mental instability. White was one of the first associates of Nesbit when she moved to New York, and became her benefactor.

Nesbit photographed by Otto Sarony, 1902.

Obsessively in love with Evelyn he drugged and raped her once when she was 14. It all came to light when Thaw killed White with the excuse “I did it because he ruined my wife.”

Evelyn Nesbit. Photograph by Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr., 1901.

In a much later confession, Nesbit told the public that the night she was raped, “she entered the room as a virgin but didn’t come out as one.”

Aida Overton Walker

Called “The Queen of the Cakewalk,” Aida was an African-American vaudeville performer, choreographer, singer, and actress from Richmond, Virginia.

Ada (Aida) Overton Walker.

She grew up in New York City and started performing at her age of 15 as a chorus member in “Black Patti’s Troubadours.”

She married the American vaudevillian, George Walker, and together they had a brilliant career.

Aida Overton Walker.

Aida was a very respected artist and quite well-paid. She was mostly remembered for her performance of the “Salome” at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre in 1912.

Ethel Clayton

Originally from Illinois, Ethel Clayton worked her way up as an actress from bit parts to star billing.

Ethel Clayton.

She started as a stage actress and became one of the most popular starts during the silent movie era. Between 1909 and 1947, Clayton appeared in 147 movies. In 1915 she married director Joseph Kaufman, who unfortunately died of pneumonia that same year.

Ad for Maybelline eyebrow and eyelash darkener with actress Ethel Clayton, on page 116 of the January 1922 ‘Photoplay.’

She later had one more marriage, to Ian Keith, that ended in divorce after five years. Clayton played her last major role in 1933, and in 1947 she retired from the cinema business.

Ethel Warwick

Ethel Warwick was a stage and movie actress who appeared in Bachelor’s Baby, The Bigamist, Letting in the SunshineThe Magistrate, and many other movies.

Signed photograph of Ethel Warwick.

 

Ethel Warwick.

Prior to her acting career, Warwick gained her popularity posing as a nude model for the artist James McNeil. She died in 1951, aged 69.

Maude Fealy

In 1903, Maude Fealy showed up at the “Beauties of the World” pageant and made America fall in love with her.

Actress Maude Fealy, circa 1901.

 

Stage and silent movie actress Maude Fealy.

 

Postcard of Maude Fealy as Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’

She was the new sensation who toured the showbiz circuit in Britain before heading back to the U.S. where she started her career as an actress. She appeared in many silent movies and later survived the early “talkie” era.

Miss Maude Fealy in ‘Hamlet.’

Then she took some years off to fulfill her dream of organizing her own theater company in which she had the freedom to work as a playwright and also to cross-dress and take on the male roles.

Marie Doro

Marie Doro was born in 1882, in Pennsylvania, and started her stage career as chorus-girl on Broadway.

Marie Doro

In her early age on stage, Doro was usually given lightweight feminine roles while privately, she was very intelligent, witty, and cultivated. However, she remains remembered mostly for her beauty. When she died in 1956, Doro bequeathed some $100,000 to the Actors’ Fund.

Lily Elsie

“Perhaps her face is nearer to that of Venus de Milo in profile than to any other famed beauty” was a quote in a newspaper referring to the English actress and singer, Lily Elsie.

Lily Elsie – postcard, postmarked Birmingham, September 1909.

 

Lily Elsie, as Sonia in the 1907 production of ‘The Merry Widow’ – postcard, postmarked October 1907.

 

Lily Elsie, silent movie actress.

 

Lily Elsie in ‘The Merry Widow.’

She started her career as a child actress and became one of the most photographed women of the Edwardian period. She is best known for her starring role in The Merry Widow in 1907.

Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper was very attractive from her childhood. At the age of six, her mother took her to be photographed in a studio in London.

Gladys Cooper in fancy-dress costume.

She was soon regularly in demand as a child model for photographs. During her teenage years, Gladys performed in pantomime and musical comedy, slowly moving on to dramatic roles and movies as she grew up.

Read another story from us: Vintage Supermodels – “Glamorous” Dresses in the 1860s

Between 1917 and 1933, she was the manager of Playhouse Theatre in London, and later a favorite on the Broadway stage.

In the 1940s she moved to Hollywood and was three times nominated for Academy Awards.