Stanford White, the son of Richard Grant White a noted writer, editor, music critic, and Shakespearean scholar, was born in New York City on November 9, 1853. As a boy, he showed a talent and interest in drawing and the arts, which was greatly encouraged by his family. Although he had no formal training in art, he attended private schools and studied under tutors, Stanford White demonstrated a remarkable artistic gift; he was able to convey an outdoor atmosphere or a particular mood on paper. He wanted to follow a career as a painter, but did not know how to prepare himself.
Most American painters were self taught, and art instruction was scarce at the time, so White went to painter John La Farge, a friend of his father, for advice. La Farge bluntly told young White to abandon his thoughts of a career as a painter. He suggested that White should try a career in architecture instead. At the age of sixteen, White was introduced to Henry Hobson Richardson, one of the first Americans to study at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris. The Ecole de Beaux Arts served as the first source for formal American architecture.
When Richardson met the tall, thin freckle faced child, he was impressed with Whites enthusiasm, an enthusiasm that later characterized him as a mature man. At the age of nineteen, after studying for a while in New York, White went to work for Richardson in New York as a student draftsman. White quickly developed skill in design. He worked with as one of Richarsons chief assistants on many important works. While working, White met his future partner Charles McKim, who also attended the Ecole de Beaux Arts, and worked for Richardson the same time White did.
In 1872, McKim left his job to start his own architectural firm with William Rutherford Mead and William Bigelow as partners. White left Richarsons office on an extended visit to Europe ! in 1878. When he was in France, he met up with McKim again, and the two traveled together through southern France and Spain. In 1880, as a result of the trip, White was asked to join McKim and Mead as partnership; Bigelow had retired. McKim, Mead, and White had a very successful partnership, which can be seen in all the buildings they designed. In 1884, White married Bessie Springs of Smithtown.
Three years later, they had a son, Lawrence Grant White, who later went on to become an architect, join with his fathers firm in 1914, and in 1920 become a partner. White was a connoisseur of beautiful things in architecture, other arts, antiques, decoration, and in women. One woman White found to be attractive was a sixteen year old artist model and chorus girl, Evelyn Nesbit, with whom he became romantically involved. White at the time was living apart from his wife. He was living in New York city, and she was living in their house in St. James.
A few years later, Evelyn Nesbit married Harry K Thaw, the son of a rich railroad tycoon. Thaw lived a wild life, and was said to be a drug addict. He was madly jealous over the affair his wife had, before they were married, with White. Stanford White died, at the age of fifty-three, at the height of his fame and popularity. On the evening of June 5, 1906, while attending the summer opening of the Gardens Roof Show, White was killed by Harry Thaw, who had approached and shot him from the rear. Stanford White was a man of his times; he was definitely a colorful person who believed in living well.
For two decades, he was a commanding force in New York life. As well, he was a leading man in turn of the century, upper class New York social life. Which would have been different had it not been for Whites strong personality and influence at the center of so many events. As an architect, he maintained high standards for comfort and design, with some of his buildings being the most notable of the time. With his partners, White dominated his profession in the United States for some time. The firm of McKim, Mead, & White was highly influential in establishing mode for public and private design.
Whites murder upon the rooftop of the Garden, and the discoveries of the architects earlier involvement with many women, have become embedded in American popular lore. White is remembered not for his achievements, but for the more colorful aspects of his life. The newspapers had the story of Whites affairs the day after he was killed. During the trial of Thaw, more information about Whites promiscuity was in the papers. Nobody was talking about Whites achievements, only his affairs. It was not until much later that his achievements gained enough recognition.