Andrew Jackson Borden, from all we can surmise, loved his wife, Sarah Anthony Morse Borden. Sarah was a pretty little thing when they married on Christmas Day, 1845. He was 23 and she was 22. Probably a true love match. But it would be five years before they had any children.
Emma Lenora Borden, born March 1, 1851 was older sister to Lizzie Borden. Unlike Lizzie, Emma knew her mother. Knew her and loved her.
Just before Emma’s 6th birthday, a second daughter was born, Alice Ester. Emma must have loved holding and helping to care for this little sister. She would be taught how to nurture and protect her younger sibling by her own loving mother. It was the “formative years” for Emma when so many character traits are instilled. It was a sweet time, but a short time because baby Alice was to die just two years later, on March 10, 1858 of hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
After two more years, the sad loss of baby Alice would find some solace with the joy of another baby sister born on July 19, 1860. The gender may have been a disappointment to 38 year old Andrew, but surely Sarah and Emma were thrilled and delighted with baby Lizzie Andrew.
Emma, now 9 years old, was even more prepared to handle and help take care of little Lizzie, again with the gentle guidance of her dear mother. To Sarah, it may have seemed that God himself answered her prayers with this special gift. Showered with love, affection and tender care, this little baby would be spoiled in getting her way.
Tragedy struck again in the Andrew Borden family when 3 weeks after Emma’s 12th birthday, Sarah Borden died of uterine congestion, leaving Emma and toddler Lizzie without a mother. And although their grandfather and step grand-mother, as well as their Aunt Lurana lived next to them, it was Emma who took care of Lizzie. Shortly before she died, Sarah had extracted a promise from Emma to always look after little Lizzie. A duty she would never take lightly nor relinquish easily.
The marriage of Andrew and Abby Durfee Gray could not have been a love match. For Andrew, he had found a capable, respectable and sturdy woman to take care of the house and someone to look after his growing daughters. Emma, especially, needed a woman’s hand to teach her the charming attributes of a proper Victorian young lady. Yes, for Andrew it was a sound acquisition.
For Abby, at age 37, she was happy to be married and have her own home and family. Her maternal instincts immediately embraced little Lizzie to whom she hoped to be a loving mother as well as a good wife to the stern but prosperous Andrew Borden. Emma, the teenager, was cool and distant, and did not embrace Abby’s attempts to teach her.
For Emma, it could not have been a pleasant change. She had been “in charge” of baby Lizzie. But now she had been trumped by the intruder. Her animosity towards Abby would be transparent and viral to her younger sibling.
As for Lizzie, she was now influenced by two mothers: Her new stepmother and the blood surrogate mother, her own sister.
One can almost imagine Emma holding toddler Lizzie on her knee and showing her the above picture of the mother she never knew. “This is our real mother, Lizzie. Her name was Sarah and she loved you very much. Not like our steppie ‘Abby’. She can never be our real mother. This is our REAL mother.”
When the “young Emma” went off to Wheaton Female Seminary, she was separated from “young Lizzie” for a year and a half, except for holidays. Plain and reserved Emma would not complete her studies at Wheaton. She lacked the charm and experiences of her school mates. Perhaps she feared the affect “Mrs. Borden” (as she called her) would have on Lizzie during her absence and would rather be at home in Fall River, resuming her role as the surrogate mother.
Her absence did afford Abby a chance to bond with Lizzie. Little Lizzie may have written letters to big sister Emma about “mother did this for me”, or “mother took me here”, all much to Emma’s dismay. This was also a time when Abby gave an engraved silver cup to Lizzie.
As a child in elementary school, Lizzie was an average student but did not make friends easily. Even in grammar school she spoke disrespectfully and harshly of her stepmother.
The oddness of Lizzie became a character trait along with her intermittent haughtiness – the latter perhaps derived from her growing knowledge she and her sister were “blood Bordens” and what that meant. But Abby, her “steppie”, ugh. Her class was beneath theirs.
And as the years passed by, Abby would try to be a mother to Lizzie often repelled by Emma’s psychological tug- of-war play: “She’s mine!”
“I had never been to her as a mother in many things. I always went to my sister, because she was older and had the care of me after my mother died.” -Lizzie Borden, Inquest Testimony
Abby’s attempts would fail, and as Lizzie grew into a woman Abby would find herself living in a home divided. The bond between the sisters was formidable. For Abby, she would no longer be interested in engendering herself to the girls.
“A. I was speaking to her of a garment I had made for Mrs. Borden, and instead of saying Mrs. Borden I said “Mother.” and she says: “Don’t say that to me, for she is a mean good for nothing thing.” I said: “Oh Lizzie, you don’t mean that?” And she said “Yes, I don’t have much to do with her; I stay in my room most of the time.” And I said, “You come down to your meals, don’t you?” And she said: “Yes, but we don’t eat with them if we can help it.”” -Trial Testimony of dressmaker Hannah Gifford
“And we always thought she persuaded father to buy it. At any rate he did buy it, and I am quite sure she did persuade him. I said what he did for her people, he ought to do for his own children.” -Lizzie Borden, Inquest Testimony
“Q. Can you tell me the cause of the lack of cordiality between you and your mother, or was it not any specific thing?
A. Well, we felt that she was not interested in us….” –Emma Borden, Inquest Testimony
Lizzie’s disdain for her stepmother became more pronounced as she grew older. It had long been embedded in her psyche. She fretted and brooded. Her fearful anxiety about the disposition of her father’s wealth always had Abby, the usurper, as its focus.
No outlet for social intercourse save her church affiliation, a rapidly diminishing prospect for marriage, and an escalating highly charged atmosphere within the territorial home was a stew bubbling to spill over. Suddenly her future financial security and independence was about to be threatened beyond retraction. The knowledge unleashed a rage long dormant and deep within her psyche. And at its core was her hatred of Abby.
“Oh, Lord. What have I done? What have I done?”
–conjectured thought of Emma Borden by the writer