Episode 15: Lizzie Borden Took a Labrys

Way back in the first episode, Leigh and Gretchen formed a historical ‘murder wives’ ship starting with Anne Bonny; in this episode, they take a closer look at murder wife #2: Lizzie Borden! That’s right folks, she too may very well have had a thing for the ladies as well as possibly murdering her father and stepmother. Just how queer was she? Did she have an affair with her maid and her stepmother caught them? Did she fall in love with a glamorous lesbian movie star after the murders? Why was she acquitted and what was society like for a single, Victorian woman who wanted to be in possession of a large fortune and upward social mobility? Find out on this week’s History is Gay!

A Closer Look at Lizzie Borden, The Trial, and Her Potential Loves

 Lizzie Andrew Borden

Lizzie Andrew Borden

 Lizzie Borden, 1890, looking glam.

Lizzie Borden, 1890, looking glam.

 Lizzie’s Father, Andrew Borden, looking like a penny-pinching asshole.

Lizzie’s Father, Andrew Borden, looking like a penny-pinching asshole.

 Lizzie’s Stepmother, Abby Gray Borden.

Lizzie’s Stepmother, Abby Gray Borden.

 Lizzie’s Older Sister Emma Borden.

Lizzie’s Older Sister Emma Borden.

 Lizzie’s Uncle, John Morse.

Lizzie’s Uncle, John Morse.

 The Borden Home: 92 Second St, Fall River Massachusetts, 1892.

The Borden Home: 92 Second St, Fall River Massachusetts, 1892.

 Jurors at Lizzie Borden’s trial, 1893.

Jurors at Lizzie Borden’s trial, 1893.

 Sketch Illustration of Lizzie from the trail.

Sketch Illustration of Lizzie from the trail.

 Illustration of Lizzie Borden in  Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper , v. 76 (1893 June 29).

Illustration of Lizzie Borden in Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 76 (1893 June 29).

 An illustration of Lizzie fainting at the reveal of the disfigured skulls of Abby and Andrew in the courtroom.

An illustration of Lizzie fainting at the reveal of the disfigured skulls of Abby and Andrew in the courtroom.

 Illustration and article in  the Fitchburg Sentinel , August 13, 1892.

Illustration and article in the Fitchburg Sentinel, August 13, 1892.

 Bridget Sullivan, live-in maid to the Borden family.

Bridget Sullivan, live-in maid to the Borden family.

 Raging lesbian stage and film actress Nance O’Neil.

Raging lesbian stage and film actress Nance O’Neil.

 Another sultry shot of the seductress…

Another sultry shot of the seductress…

 Article announcing Lizzie’s death in the  Lewiston Daily Sun

Article announcing Lizzie’s death in the Lewiston Daily Sun

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Plays:

  • 1948: Fall River Legend, a ballet choreographed by Agnes De Mille, most famously known as the choreographer for Oklahoma!, Carousel, Brigadoon, and other classic 1950s American musicals. Takes the Lizzie Borden story and changes the outcome of the jury sentence to guilty.

  • 1965: Lizzie, an opera by Jack Beeson

  • 1990: Lizzie the Musical a rock opera by Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt called “a gothic rock ritual with a ‘riotgirl’ attitude by NYT and the Village Voice describes the music as “lush tunes that retch sex, rage, dyke heat, misanthropy, and incest.”

  • Axed: An Evening of One Ax by Carolyn Gage, a collection of two one-act plays, Lace Curtain Irish and The Greatest Actress Who Ever Lived, both focused on women who were intimate with Lizzie during her lifetime, Bridget Sullivan and Nance O’Neil, respectively. Carolyn Gage is the playwright that called Nance O’Neil an “outrageous lesbian”.

Film & Television

  • 1975: The Legend of Lizzie Borden, an ABC television film starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Borden and Fionnula Flanagan as Bridget Sullivan. Fun fact: It was discovered after Elizabeth Montgomery’s death that she was actually Lizzie Borden’s sixth cousin once removed!

  • 2014: Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, a Lifetime television film starring Christina Ricci

  • 2017: Lizzie Borden Documentary on the ‘Female Killers’ YouTube channel that we’ll link in the show notes.

  • 2018: Lizzie movie starring Kristen Stewart and Chloe Sevigny. The film centers around the intimacy between Borden (played by Sevigny) and maid Bridget Sullivan (played by Stewart) in the face of Lizzie’s gross father. Seems pretty gay! By the time this episode airs, it will have just released, which is why we wanted to do this episode!

Other

  • The Borden Dispatches a duology that reimagines Lizzie as a warrior against supernatural horrors and her parents as possessed.  

  • Lizzie Borden: Girl Detective novels by the late Richard Behrens are a fictional series of books where young Lizzie solves crimes.

  • Plus, lots of other fiction books about Lizzie, Bridget, and the murders. Wikipedia is a great place to start your search.

  • Lizzie Borden Podcast discusses Lizzie’s life, history, background of Fall River, has live readings from plays or radio dramas, and more! There are 11 episodes out and it seems to no longer be running.

  • The podcast Most Notorious! A true crime podcast also has a Lizzie Borden episode, as do The History Chicks.

If you want to learn more about Lizzie Borden, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books and Print Articles:

  • Parallel Lives: A social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River by Michael Martins and Dennis A. Binette

  • A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight by Victoria Lincoln

  • The Life and Trial of Lizzie Borden by Charles River Editors

  • The Life, Legend, and Mystery of Lizzie Borden by Trey Wyatt

  • Lizzie: A Novel by Evan Hunter

  • Lizzie Borden: The Legend, The Truth, The Final Chapter by Arnold R. Brown

Videos:

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!