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Lizzie Borden

The Borden Family

The Borden family had long established roots in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie’s father Andrew Jackson Borden (September 13, 1822-August 4, 1892) was born there, the eighth generation removed from the first founding father. He was the son of Abraham Bowen Borden and Phebe Davenport. Her mother Sarah Anthony Morse (September 19, 1823-March 26, 1863) was the daughter of Anthony Morse and Rhoda Morrison and was born in nearby Somerset. Lizzie’s parents were married on December 25, 1845 and settled first as tenants and later as owners of the house at 92 Second Street. They would have three daughters: Emma Lenora Borden (March 1, 1851-June 10, 1927), Alice Esther Borden (May 3, 1856-March 10, 1858), who died young, and finally Lizzie Andrew Borden born on July 19, 1860. In March of 1863, before Lizzie was three years old, Sarah Borden died of “uterine congestion and disease of the spine.” (Brown, p. 46) Because the community largely thought of the Borden family as being a little odd, her death was viewed as a bit suspicious. There was nothing to assume that the death was anything other than natural causes.

Andrew Borden was a prominent personality in the Fall River community. He was described after his death by the Daily Globe, the local newspaper, on August 5, 1892:

“Andrew J. Borden was a peculiar man in many respects. While his tall, neatly clothed figure was familiar to all the older citizens, he had few intimates and was reticent to a marked degree. When he started in life his means were extremely limited and he made his money by saving it. The habits of economy and thrift which he formed then, clung to him to the last and although his income of last years was very large, he lived modestly and continued to count his pennies.

The firm of Borden & Almy, in which he was senior partner, long had a monopoly in the undertaking business, and it made them rich. They buried the wealthy and the indigent, the foreign-born and natives, and for years, with the single exception of Westgate’s establishment, they had no competitors.

Mr. Borden had the manners of a gentleman of the old school. He was always dignified, but at the same time he was courteous and kindly, and as has been reported, was scrupulously upright in all his dealings and expected the same fairness in others. He was positive in his views, unbending in will, and at times appeared to lack sympathy. Deceased was domestic in his tastes and although he had considerable leisure time, was rarely to be found where men are accustomed to congregate.” (Brown, pp. 51-52)

On June 6, 1865 Andrew Borden was remarried to Abby Durfee Gray (1828-August 4, 1892) a thirty-seven year old spinster. It was certainly not a love match, but it was an arrangement that was advantageous to both individuals. Abby’s prospects for a profitable marriage were slim and Andrew had considerably more wealth than what she came from. Her father, Oliver Gray, was a pushcart peddler and Abby herself was not a beautiful woman in appearance. She was rather plain, short and overweight, weighing in at between 210 and 220 pounds at the time of her death. Andrew was in need of a housekeeper and someone to help attend to his two daughters, who were still of a dependent age. Her relationship with Andrew’s two daughters, though, would prove to be an acrimonious one. What the exact nature of their relationship was is largely unknown but Emma and Lizzie resented her presence in the house and Lizzie was known to have referred to her as “a mean old thing.”

Emma Borden was the eldest daughter of Andrew Borden and was still living at 92 Second Street when the murders occurred. She would have been forty-one years old at the time, thereby establishing herself as a spinster, much like her younger sister. She was described by Arnold R. Brown as such:

“We know nothing of her schooling, her activities in the community, her suitors, or the implied total lack of them. Her physical description is given as “slight,” nothing more. Photographs of her are rare, and the one courtroom sketch in which she appears shows her with her hand covering her face. Unlike her sister, she was never known to express dissatisfaction with her lot in life, her “humble” home, or her lack of the material things seemingly so important to Lizzie and so easily obtainable for those with Andrew Borden’s wealth. We do know that she did not like her stepmother, Abby.” (Brown, pp. 41-42)

Lizzie was in temperament very different from her elder sister. She was one to speak her mind when she felt the need to and had no reservations when confronting her stepmother or father in a disagreement. She chafed at the tight circumstances her father relegated to the family, feeling that the family needed to spend more in order to be accepted into better society. She is described by Arnold R. Brown as:

“Lizzie was not unattractive in face, figure, or personality. She had red hair and a temper to match, and she was stubborn and set in her ways. At the time of the murders, she had a number of escorts and suitors. She was, however, doomed to eternal spinsterhood by The Hill (established society of Fall River), as had been her sister before her. As far as marriage was concerned, her father, her stepmother, their residence, and their lifestyle coalesced into an alabaster albatross. Both Lizzie and Emma were tarred by the “not acceptable” rating from The Hill on the one side and by their father’s rulings on the other. Any acceptable male of acceptable breeding without independent means or expectations would have been branded a fortune hunter by Andrew and chased away. Any available male with means or expectations would have had more acceptable prey to hunt. She was a poor little rich girl.” (Brown, pp. 54-55)

Such was the makeup and dynamic of what we would call today a dysfunctional family. We have a father who is aloof, miserly and conservative, a stepmother who is concerned with her own lot in life and has little love for the family she married into, one daughter who is painfully aware of problems within the family but does not voice her concerns, and finally the other daughter who flagrantly opines about her circumstances and has no qualms defying her father and stepmother about those issues.

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All content unless otherwise noted is © 2023, Jill Nicholson