Teapot given to Historical Society offers piece of Lizzie Borden story

17 May

Gertrude May Russell (above) received the teapot shown below as a gift from her friend Lizzie Borden.  The rare piece is now on display at the

Above:  Gertrude May Russell and the teapot her grand-daughter donated to the Fall River Historical Society.

From the Fall River Herald News comes this article by Deborah Allard:

“Borden had given ceramic teapot to hired companion about 100 years ago”



Herald News Photo | Jack Foley

“This photo courtesy of the Fall River Historical Society shows Lizzie Borden at Maplecroft, her French Street mansion, a few years after she employed Gertrude May Russell as a paid companion to accompany her on travels.”

“A cunning little ceramic teapot for one with a cobalt blue design was recently donated to the Fall River Historical Society.The tiny teapot came to curator Michael Martins with a big story.It was given by Lizzie Borden to her hired companion, Gertrude May Russell, as a present about 100 years ago.“It was hand-turned, hand-painted,” Martins said. He opened the lid and revealed a ceramic infuser, still intact. “It’s a sweet little teapot.”Martins said some research is still necessary to determine the teapot’s country of origin. It is completely unmarked. He said his first thought was that it might be from Asia, but he said it has a “decidedly European shape.”The teapot was donated to the society by Russell’s granddaughter, who is a member of the society, lives in Maine and wants to remain anonymous.Martins said the teapot came with a “good paper trail,” unlike some items that can be found online with no documentation.He said such donations are “few and far between.” But the society has recently collected more items than usual because of the contacts made by Martins and assistant curator Dennis Binnette while authoring “Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and her Fall River.”“A great deal more material has come to the surface,” Martins said.Russell, known as “Trudy,” worked for Lizzie Borden from 1911 to 1913, according to Martins and an excerpt in “Parallel Lives” that features Russell.Russell was one of six children and was born in New Bedford. After her father died in 1894, her mother took the children to Boston and ran a boarding house on Beacon Hill.The family moved to Fall River in 1899 — just seven years after Lizzie Borden was tried and later acquitted of killing her father and stepmother with a hatchet in their 92 Second St. home.Russell went to the Lincoln School until 1905. She took a job at Kerr Thread Mills in 1909. Lizzie hired her as a companion in 1911.Russell moved into a third-floor bedroom at Maplecroft, Lizzie’s French Street mansion, in order to perform her duties. She was Lizzie’s traveling companion, and the two went to Boston and Washington and other destinations. They stayed in luxurious hotels, dined in fine restaurants and went to museums and the theater.Martins said it was likely that Lizzie purchased the teapot for Russell on one of these trips.While traveling once, they met a little girl named Virginia, and Lizzie told Russell that she should choose that name when she has a daughter someday.Russell, a young woman, in 1913 acted on impulse and left Lizzie’s employment to have more time for dancing and going out on the weekend.Lizzie was “perturbed” and found it improper that Russell would quit, and not to get married but to take work as a clerk in the R.A. McWhirr’s store downtown.Russell met a young man at one of her weekend dances and married him in 1914. When she had a daughter in 1923, she named the child Virginia.Russell wrote to Lizzie to tell her about her daughter. She received no response.Though there were obviously hurt feelings for both Russell and Lizzie, Russell told her granddaughter that she was a “silly young girl” when she quit her job with Lizzie, a job she said she enjoyed much. She said Lizzie had the “kindest blue eyes” she’d ever seen.“We feel that this piece really belongs here,” Martins said.The little blue and white teapot will be put on display at the Historical Society, 451 Rock St. The Historical Society offers tours, a museum shop and a large display of Borden memorabilia.The society is now open for the season. For hours and more information, visit”

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