Bridget Sullivan (1866-1948) is a crucial character in the Lizzie Borden story. She was the domestic maid at the time of the murders, and was present in the house during the tragic events. There is much doubt about her age in 1892. Her testimony, a marriage certificate, some genealogical records, her will, and a date on her headstone all are in conflict as to her true birth year, but she was anywhere from 19 to 28 years old on August 4th, 1892. It is likely that she was 26, since that was the age she gave at the trial under oath, but doubts remain. It is certain, however, that she came over to America in May of 1886, first working in Newport, Rhode Island, then Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and finally arriving in Fall River in 1888.
The Bordens were not her first employers in Fall River, but it is clear that she was working for them by 1889. For reasons that are unclear, both Emma and Lizzie took to the habit of calling her "Maggie". This name was no doubt a class condescension, since "Maggie" was a stereotypical name for an Irish servant. Considering Bridget was a live-in maid, it was a little surprising to find that her duties included washing, ironing, cooking, and sweeping, but did not include taking care of the bedroom chambers. Generally, Abby took care of the master bedroom, while the girls took care of their own rooms and the guest room. Abby was also known to go out often to shop for meat and other groceries, and Lizzie took care of the sweeping and dusting of the parlor. There was also a handyman who came in from the Swansea farm to help out. While Bridget's duties cannot be trivialized, she did seem to share a lot of the housework with the other members of the family.
Bridget was lodged in a small bedroom on the third floor, next to another small space that was sometimes used as a guest bedroom, particularly for John V. Morse and the handyman from the farm. Perhaps that extra guest room, now a bathroom for the current Bed and Breakfast business, was reserved for those visitors for whom the Bordens didn't have to roll out their best linens, but it was definitely employed when the second floor guest room was being used for such activities as dress-making and receiving visitors.
On the evening of Wednesday August 3rd, Bridget went out to see a friend on Third Street, returning at roughly 10:00 in the evening. A lamp had been left on in the kitchen for her, and she proceeded to the ice chest from which she poured herself a glass of milk. This may have some significance, since Bridget had not yet suffered the ill feelings that had so recently besieged the other members of the Borden household; for after she woke up on the morning of August 4th, she began to feel a dull headache. Later that morning, she would be vomiting in the backyard, but it is unclear if her illness was initiated by her late night glass of milk.
She was up at quarter past six on Thursday morning, and immediately went down to the cellar to get some wood and coal to start the fire. She then unlocked the side door off the kitchen, a door she had carefully and fully locked the evening before, and brought in the milk delivery. She also put out a pan for the iceman. She then left the screen door hooked and the panel door open. After some time, Bridget was joined downstairs, first by Abby and then by Andrew. The women went about planning the morning's breakfast while Andrew went out back to empty his slop pail in the backyard. Then with the arrival of John Morse, the family settled in for breakfast. The meal consisted of left-over mutton, mutton broth, coffee, some molasses cookies and Johnny cakes. When the meal was completed, the family retired to their business, and the Irish servant girl sat down to have her own breakfast before cleaning up all the dishes.
Bridget was still cleaning up when Lizzie Borden came in from the sitting-room, declining to have any breakfast but settling for some cookies and coffee. Lizzie sat down at the table to eat her meal, while Bridget, experiencing a sudden attack of nausea, ran out to the backyard and commenced vomiting. This nausea attack lasted for as much as ten or fifteen minutes, according to Bridget's testimony. After the poor girl had finally finished her retching, she came back inside to find Abby Borden walking about with a feather duster, giving her orders to wash the downstairs windows, both inside and out.
Bridget went through the dining room and sitting room, closing the windows in preparation for the cleaning, and then went into the cellar to fetch a pail of water. She next went to the barn to get the handle for the brush. Armed with her cleaning materials (which also included a step-ladder), Bridget went to the south side of the house to wash the sitting-room windows there, stopping for a few moments to chat with the girl from the Kelly house, just to the south of the Borden home. Bridget then proceeded to clean the windows of the sitting-room, the parlor and the dining room, running to the barn about six or seven times to refresh her pail of water. She entered the house one more time to fetch a dipper for rinsing from the kitchen closet, but didn't see anyone while she was inside. It was during all this activity by Bridget that Abby Borden may have been murdered by the nineteen hatchet blows to the head that she had received in the upstairs guestroom.
Coming back inside, Bridget went to the sitting-room and proceeded to clean the inside of the windows there. She heard someone struggling to unlock the front door. Mr. Borden had returned from his walk downtown, and, finding the side screen door locked with the hook lock, he had walked back to the front of the house and tried to open it with his key. Bridget ran to the door and began unlocking it for him, and, experiencing difficulty with one of the locks, she let out with an exclamation of "Oh phsaw!" This exclamation provoked an eerie giggle from Lizzie Borden at the top of the stairs. Bridget's testimony as to Lizzie's laugh is significant, in that Lizzie was standing outside her bedroom door on the landing just a few yards from Abby Borden's dead body. Most people agree that anyone standing on the landing would not have been able to see the body, since it was on the other side of the guest room bed and so not in the line of sight of anyone on the landing. Yet the proximity of Lizzie to the body is compelling considering that at the inquest, Lizzie hesitated to commit herself as to where she was actually located at the time her father came in through the front door. Her waffling on this issue was suspicious enough to make Bridget's testimony all the more gripping.
Bridget next witnessed Lizzie Borden enter the sitting-room and from there go into the dining room, where she had a talk with her father. She asked him if there was any mail at the post office, and told him that Mrs. Borden had received a note and had gone out – another eerie bit of dialogue considering that Abby was then lying dead upstairs.
As Bridget washed the windows in the dining room, Lizzie came in and proceeded to iron some handkerchiefs at the table. She chatted with Bridget, telling her again that Mrs. Borden had received notice that someone was sick. As Bridget finished the window washing, she laid the cloths she had used behind the stove in the kitchen to dry. Lizzie then came in to the kitchen and told Bridget about a clothing sale at Sargent's Department store on North Main Street. This dialogue is significant in that it suggests that Lizzie was trying to get Bridget out of the house deliberately, an effort that failed because Bridget, who was not feeling well, instead decided to go up to her attic room and lie down for a bit.
Bridget was unable to remember how long she had been in bed before the City Hall bells struck 11 a.m. Shortly after that -- no one is certain how long -- her rest was disturbed by Lizzie Borden calling up the stairs for her. "Maggie, come down quick! Father is dead. Someone has come in and killed him."
Any attempt at further rest or respite from the sickness that had overcome her was now an impossibility, for Lizzie dispatched Bridget first to Doctor Bowen's house across the street. The doctor was not at home, and so Lizzie next sent her around the corner to Borden Street to fetch Alice Russell. Bridget didn't know where Alice lived, and initially went to the wrong house. Oddly enough, Bridget was then given directions by a man who had been dispatched by Mrs. Churchill, Lizzie's next door neighbor, who by this time was well aware that someone had killed Mr. Borden. As Bridget approached the correct house, Alice appeared in the screen door, and told Bridget that she would be over, but not before changing her dress.
Returning to the house, Bridget found Mrs. Churchill and Doctor Bowen already present, along with Lizzie and Officer Allen, the first policeman to arrive on the scene. Dr. Bowen sent Bridget up to Andrew's bedroom to fetch sheets to cover the body, and when Lizzie suggested that Bridget go up to the front of the house to look for Abby (Lizzie now claimed that she thought she had heard her come in the house), the maid refused, declaring that she was too scared to go up by herself. Accompanied by Mrs. Churchill, Bridget ascended the steps and discovered Abby's inert form from a vantage point on the staircase, a line of sight being established under the bed in the guestroom. Bridget went into the room and walked around to the foot of the bed, now directly above the body of the slain Mrs. Borden.
That night, Bridget stayed with the servant girl over at the Millers', and then spent one last night in the Borden home on Friday evening. Within a short period, she was employed once again by the ex-city Marshall of Fall River and current jail keeper in New Bedford, Josiah Hunt. Her inquest testimony is lost to history, but she also testified at the preliminary hearing and at the trial.
Bridget moved to Anaconda, Montana in 1897 where in 1905 she married a man named John Sullivan. She died in 1942 in Butte, Montana, a blind 73-year old woman living with relatives. To her dying day, she did not reveal anything significant about the Borden case that she didn't say in her testimonies.
Bridget's role in the case was crucial. The story that she told fits very conveniently with a belief in Lizzie's guilt: Lizzie was in the right place at the right time for both murders; she was upstairs at a time when she claimed she was downstairs; she told the story about Abby's note; and she tried to get Bridget to leave the house for a cloth sale. Bridget Sullivan may have told the truth exactly as she experienced it and thereby deepened the mystery of Lizzie Borden.