Saturday, January 14, 2017

Five Interesting Facts about Lizzie Borden

Lizzie on the left, Chloe Sevigny on the right

1. She was very active in the church.

An avid volunteer at the First Congregational Church, Lizzie served on the Ladies' Fruit & Flower Mission (organized to take fruit and flowers to sick people in hospitals or at home) and the Women's Christian Temperance Union (anti-alcohol). She also taught Sunday School, including to young Chinese boys who were the sons of immigrants. 

Is it any wonder the jury had a hard time seeing this diligently benevolent woman as a murderer? It must've been a long con.

2. She had a taste of the good life.

Two years before the brutal murders of her father and stepmother, Lizzie took a "Grand Tour" of Europe with some distant cousins. She was gone for a full 19 weeks, from June 21 to November 1 of 1890. Probably a wonderful time in which the household in Fall River took a few, calming deep breaths, while she witnessed the wonders of the Continent and the British/Irish isles. 

Lizzie's scrapbook of this visit, replete with photographs pasted in and her careful writing beneath, still exists in the archives of the Fall River Historical Society. Of course, it must've been difficult to settle back into her narrow life when she returned: no more of the grandeur of museums and statuary.

April 1912 (22 years after Lizzie was there).

3. She was bossy.

Multiple accounts exist of her being proud, haughty, and willing to speak her mind. Once she returned from the Grand Tour, she had so many souvenirs and gew-gaws to display, that she and her older sister Emma swapped bedrooms. It's important to note that one larger bedroom funneled into a smaller one—almost as if the second bedroom were a closet to the first. Lizzie had traditionally slept in the smaller room, but somehow a change was effected after her return. Did Emma offer, or did Lizzie demand? 

Gimme your room! And this chair!

4. She loved animals.

The largest bequest in Lizzie's will was to the Fall River Animal Rescue League ($30,000 in 1927 dollars!). She was known to love and cherish the pets she had after the murders; there is no mention of pets beforehand. Was part of the "problem" that she wasn't allowed to keep a dog in the house? Lizzie ordered expensive, carved tombstones for her dogs. 

And of course: the pigeons. Lizzie kept pet pigeons in the family barn. Two months before the murders, her father killed them all because neighbor boys had been breaking into the barn to mess with them. Apparently, her father hadn't understood the sentimental value and care she lavished on them (or did he?) Was the pigeon slaughter just one more straw that was put upon the proverbial camel's back?

No...don' hurts... [from]

5. It is possible she tried to poison the family.

Eli Bence, a druggist in Fall River, tried to testify that he had seen Lizzie try to purchase prussic acid (click link for more on this), but his information was suppressed during the trial. When was she trying to buy this poison, more commonly known as cyanide? Oh...just THE DAY BEFORE THE MURDERS. 

In writing The Murderer's Maid (my novel about Lizzie Borden from the maid's point of view), I had to decide how to tackle this sticky issue. Did she really try to purchase poison? Why did the judges (three of them!) decide the jury shouldn't hear Bence's testimony? And isn't it interesting that in the days before the murders, the entire household was vomiting, and Mrs. Borden even told the doctor she thought someone was trying to poison them? 

Typical drugstore of the era

I get tense just typing all this, want to go back in time and throttle the judges! Ha ha. This is when history is at its best, when our emotions get caught up in it. 

If you enjoyed this post, you may wish to read Five Interesting Facts About the Real Bridget Sullivan. You may also wish to read my novel based on the case:

Buy links for the Murderer's Maid are here:

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My other historical novels:

A medieval German woman is accused of witchcraft by her own daughter-in-law.
"A well-constructed novel and a gripping, well-told story of faith and truth."
           —Khaled Hosseini, international bestselling author of The Kite Runner
“Beautifully written, nary a word out of place, and with a few moments that throw you beyond—the way good books do.”
           —San Francisco Chronicle
A San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of 2007

Buy links for The Witch's Trinity:


A Boston prostitute shows up in San Francisco at the very beginnings of the Gold Rush, and quickly learns she's in dangerous territory with a killer targeting her kind.
"LOVED Woman of Ill Fame! Nora Simms is hilarious, heartbreaking, tough, perceptive...
and one of the most engaging characters I've ever met between the pages of a book." 
                   Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander, now a Starz miniseries
"Mailman serves up vivid description, sparkling prose and a Gold Rush prostitute as scrappy as Scarlett O’Hara."
                    Oakland Tribune

Buy link for Woman of Ill Fame ebook:

Set in a house museum in Oakland, California, a Goth docent connects with the spirits on the property to learn the truth about a long-ago death.

Buy link for House of Bellaver ebook:

. . . . .


CA Verstraete said...

Lizzie had many facets as we all know! Interesting post and the books sound fantastic! I love reading the old witchcraft trial transcripts... must have a thing for transcripts. haaa!

Erika M said...

Transcripts of all kinds are so great! Getting to hear the rhythms of ancient syntax...
Thanks for commenting, Christine! Looking forward to reading your books too.