Emma Lenora Borden
Emma Lenora Borden (1851-1927) was the older sister of Lizzie Andrew Borden, born to Andrew and Sarah Borden a decade before the Civil War. Emma's first experience of death was the passing of her nearly two year-old sister Alice in 1858, followed, even more painfully, by her mother Sarah's death due to uterine congestion in 1863. Being that Lizzie was only a two year-old at the time of Sarah's passing, Emma was charged with taking care of her younger sister, the maternal feeling that this role must have engendered in Emma persisted into their later life together, expemplified by Emma's fierce defense of her sister's honor on the witness stand during the murder trial. One can only imagine Emma's feelings towards Lizzie, who, for Emma, must have come to embody all that remained of Sarah and Alice.
Little is known about young Emma, but we do know that shortly after her father married Abby Durfee Gray, she was sent away to attend Wheaton Female Seminary (now Wheaton College). There she completed only four terms (15 months) of the otherwise-four-year program. Whether this was due to the common practice of young ladies only attending a portion of the program, or because Andrew grew increasingly to feel that the tuition money was being wasted, is unknown; but her grades were generally good, and the bills were dutifully paid while she attended.
After the family moved to 92 Second Street in 1873, Emma occupied a preferred position in the sibling pecking order. She took the larger bedroom at the top of the front stairs, relegating Lizzie to a much smaller, attached room. It was impossible for Lizzie to enter or leave her own bed chamber without passing through Emma's, a situation that must have contributed to the feeling that Emma was her surrogate mother. During those two decades that they lived in the house, Lizzie seemed to have led a more active life than Emma, doing missionary work for the Congregational Church and going out often to see friends. Emma may have been saddled with more of the responsibility of maintaining the household, along with Abby and the family's domestic help.
The girls had a troubled relationship with their stepmother over the years; by their own admission, there were some bad feelings over how Abby's family could potentially benefit from their father's wealth, especially when Andrew bought Abby half of her sister's house on Fourth Street. According to Emma's various testimonies, she did not have a cordial relationship with Abby after Andrew's purchase, even when Andrew gave the Ferry Street property to his daughters. The Ferry Street house had more rent potential than the Fourth Street house, but the damage to the daughter / stepmother relationship had been done; and Emma, who had always felt that Abby really had little interest in her or her sister, was subsequently cold to Abby for several years.
After Lizzie completed her European tour in 1890, Emma, who was thirty-nine, swapped rooms with her. Emma, in so doing, surrendered her larger and sunnier space for the small, closest-like room in which Lizzie had spent two decades. While the reasons for this switch are unclear, Lizzie may have become more demonstrative and demanding: she had even exhibited significant neurotic behavior, including shoplifting and possibly perpetrating a daylight burglary of the family home in which some money, jewelry, and street car tickets were stolen from Abby's dressing room. Whether Lizzie had staged the break-in or not, it sent Andrew into a paranoid protocol of locking doors not only at night but during the day.
Two weeks before the murders in 1892, Emma went to stay with friends in Fair Haven and, like her Uncle John Morse, had a perfect alibi for the murders on August 4th. Notified by telegram about the death of her father and stepmother, Emma returned to Fall River, arriving sometime around 5:00 p.m. She immediately began to make arrangements for funeral services. It was on the evening of the murder that Emma, hanging up her day-dress in the upstairs closet noticed Lizzie's blue Bedford cord dress; commenting to Lizzie that it was in shabby condition, and covered in paint stains, and that it should be destroyed. Three days later, on Sunday morning, Lizzie burned the dress at the kitchen stove in the presence of Emma and Alice Russell, claiming that it was paint-stained. Alice Russell's testimony for the prosecution was presented in such a way that Lizzie's action was proof of her guilt, that she had burned a blood-stained dress that had somehow eluded the police investigation. Emma, who testifies for the defense, tried to reverse this perception.
Emma continued to live in her father's house during the trial, but as soon as Lizzie was a free woman following her acquittal in 1893, the two sisters purchased the house on French Street that came to be known as Maplecroft. Here the Borden women lived a private but seemingly uneventful life in a home that was modest-sized for the Hill, that part of Fall River where many of the leading textile and shipping tycoons maintained their homes. With this new home, the sisters had the fulfillment of their dreams, made possible only by the inheritance money that had come to them from their father. Emma's patience and dedication to Lizzie was publicly evident by her residency in the home, but under the surface there was difficulty and dissent between.
In a surprise move in 1905, Emma Borden left Maplecroft, turning her back on her sister, and moved to Providence, Rhode Island. In an interview with the Boston Post in 1913, she gave some surprisingly-frank statements about “the happenings at the French Street house that caused me to leave” but remained ambiguous about the details. Perhaps Emma disapproved of Lizzie's socializing with theatricals, and most particularly with Nance O'Neil, a stage and screen actress who, for a period of time, was scandalously associated with Lizzie. Emma may also have disapproved of Lizzie's various real estate investments, or her pretensions of being a part a social class that had always eluded them (she legally changed her named to Lizbeth and named her home as if it were an English Estate). An alternative explanation would be that Emma discovered something about the murders that made it unbearable to live another day with Lizzie. The entire question of Emma's motive behind her sudden break with Lizzie is muddied by some evidence that the Boston Post interview was completely fabricated by the newspaper, and was done without Emma's cooperation.
Either way, Emma spent several years divided between Providence and Fall River, eventually relocating to Newmarket, New Hampshire where she died on June 10, 1927, exactly nine days after Lizzie's death. There is no evidence that the two sisters, who had otherwise endured and struggled so much together, ever saw or spoke to each other after 1905. Today, Emma is buried by Lizzie's side in the family plot at Oak Grove Cemetery in Fall River.