White’s principled, awe-inspiring ambitions and structures proved a foil to his sordid personal life. White had been married to Bessie Smith since 1884, and the pair had a son, Lawrence. Yet in 1897, White rented a brownstone on 24th Street where he could bring his extramarital lovers—it famously featured a swing attached to the ceiling by velvet cords.
White may not have restricted his romantic partners to women, either. Saint-Gaudens’s relationship with White was particularly ribald, if not overtly sexual. The pair maintained a correspondence in which the former drew penises on his letters to the latter, while White signed some of his notes to his friend “S.M.C.” for “Suck My Cock.” White biographer Suzannah Lessard calls White’s activities “a form of compulsive consumption,” noting that he was “all over the place, sexually.” Gilded Age acquisitiveness was hardly restricted to money.