Lizzie Borden

From Academic Kids

This article is about the Lizzie Borden made famous by the nursery rhyme; for the film-maker, see Lizzie Borden (filmmaker)

Lizzie Andrew Borden (July 19, 1860 - June 1, 1927) was a New England spinster who was tried for the brutal axe murders of her father and stepmother in the late 1800’s. Although she was acquitted, she is remembered chiefly as the subject of the following doggerel, sung to the tune of Ta-Rah-Rah-Boom-de-yay.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

The anonymous rhyme is erroneous, both in its presumption of guilt and its gross over-estimate of the number of wounds -- her step-mother suffered 19, her father, 10-- but has served to ensure Lizzie Borden’s place in American folklore.

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Lizzie Borden after her acquittal in 1893

Before the murder

Lizzie was born on July 19, 1860 -- the youngest child of Andrew Jackson Borden and Sarah Morse Borden. Andrew was a well-to-do banker who owned considerable property in his home town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie’s mother died when she was two years old; and a few years later Andrew married Abby Durfee Borden. It was rumored that Lizzie and her older sister, Emma (who was out of town at the time of the murders) never felt warmly towards their step-mother and both admitted during their testimony that there was considerable ill-feeling when, a few years prior to the crime, Andrew put a piece of property in Abby’s name.

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Borden House

The murder and the trial

On August 4, 1892, Lizzie and the maid of the household, Bridget Sullivan, discovered the bodies of Andrew J. Borden and Abby Durfee Gray Borden, Lizzie's father and his second wife, in their home at 92 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts. Both had been slain by multiple axe blows. Although the exact weapon was not named, and witnesses saw no trace of blood on Lizzie moments after the murder, a circumstantial case was mounted against her. At the inquest, a local pharmacist claimed that Lizzie attempted to purchase prussic acid from him a day before the crime. Then, at the grand jury hearing, incriminating evidence came from her friend, Alice Russell, who testified that Lizzie burned a stained dress three days after the murders. But the most damning evidence came at the trial, when medical experts appeared to prove that Abby Borden was killed approximately an hour and a half before her husband – making it seem that the perpetrator was more likely to have been a member of the household than an outsider.

The Preliminary hearing was held in late August 1892 and the grand jury heard testimony in late November and early December of the same year. The trial of Lizzie Borden began on June 5, 1893 and lasted two weeks. An all-male jury acquitted her on June 20, 1893 after only sixty-eight minutes of deliberation.

Later life

After the trial, Lizzie and Emma split their inheritance and bought a much larger house up on the hill which Lizzie christened Maplecroft. She also changed her name from Lizzie to Lizbeth. Apparently Lizzie was a great lover of animals and poetry. Above her fireplace in Maplecroft was emblazoned the following:

And old-time friends & twilight plays,
And starry nights, and sunny days
Come trooping up the misty ways
When my fire burns low.
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Many Fall River residents still believed in her guilt and as a result, she was ostracized to some degree. More than a dozen years after the murders, she and her sister became estranged – and after Emma left Maplecroft in 1905, the two lived apart until their deaths in 1927.

Lizzie Borden died of complications from gall bladder surgery on June 1, 1927 at the age of sixty-six. Emma died nine days later. 1/7 th (One-seventh) of Lizzie’s considerable estate was left to the Animal Rescue League of Fall River and the remainder to those friends and servants who stayed loyal to her over the years.


Despite her acquittal, Lizzie Borden remains in popular imagination as a brutal murderess. This is due in part to the following:

  • The murders were never solved.
  • For a number of years, on the anniversary of the murders, the more sensational press re-accused her of the crime.
  • The infamous doggerel endured – insinuating her guilt into the public mind thereafter.

Artistic depictions

A number of books expounding different theories have been written about the crime. These include:

  • Brown, Arnold R. Lizzie Borden: The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter." Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1991.
  • de Mille, Agnes. Lizzie Borden: A Dance of Death. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1968.
  • Kent, David Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden. Yankee Books, 1992.
  • Kent, David The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook. Boston: Branden Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Lincoln, Victoria. A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight. NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967.
  • Masterton, William L. Lizzie Didn’t Do It! Boston: Branden Publishing Company, 2000.
  • Spiering, Frank. Lizzie. NY: Random House, 1984.
  • Sullivan, Robert. Goodbye Lizzie Borden. Brattleboro, VT: Stephen Greene Press, 1974.

There is a scholarly journal published on Lizzie Borden, Fall River, and Victorian era America:

  • The Hatchet: Journal of Lizzie Borden Studies. PearTree Press.

There is also a 1975 film adaptation of the crime:

She was the subject of the opera, Lizzie Borden, (1965), by Jack Beeson.

Rick Geary used a journal written by a Fall River resident as the narrative device of his comic book "The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Massachusetts, 1892." NY: NBN Pub., 1997 -- an entry in his series, "A Treasury of Victorian Murder."

Miss Borden also appears as a character in Monkeybone (2001), Joe Killionaire (2004), and Saturday the 14th Strikes Back (1988), played by Shawnee Free Jones, Alice Alyse, and Lauren Peterson, respectively; these depictions fall into the Victorian Evil category.

External links


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