New York Recorder—September 20, 1892
IN A NEW LIGHT
Lizzie Borden in Jail Awaiting Trial
How She Appeared to a Recent Visitor in Her Cell
Feels Badly Over the Talk that She Shows no Grief
‘I know that I am innocent, and I have made up my mind that, no matter what happens, I will try to bear it bravely and make the best of it.’
The speaker was a woman. The words came slowly, and her eyes filled with tears that did not fall before they were wiped away. The woman was Lizzie Borden, who had been accused of the murder of her father, and personally has been made to appear in the eyes of the public as a monster, lacking in respect for the law, and stolid in her demeanor to such an extent that she never showed emotion at any stage of the tragedy, inquest or trial, and, as far as the government would allow they knew, had never shown any womanly or human emotion of any sort since the public first crossed the threshold of the Borden house.
I was anxious to see if this girl, with whom I was associated several years ago in the work of the Fall River Fruit and Flower Mission, had changed her character and become a monster since the days when she used to load up the plates of vigorous young newsboys and poor children at the annual turkey dinner provided during the holidays for them and take delight in their healthy appetites.
I sought her in the Taunton Jail and found her unchanged, except that she showed traces of the great trial she has just been through. Her face was thinner, her mouth had a patient look, as if she had been schooling herself to expect and to bear any treatment, however unpleasant, and her eyes were red from the long nights of weeping. A dark shade now protects them from the glaring white light reflected from the walls of her cell.
‘How do you get along here, Miss Borden?’ I asked her as soon as extra chairs had been secured for the two visitors.
‘To tell the truth, I am afraid it is beginning to to tell on my health. This lack of fresh air and exercise is hard for me. I have always been out of doors a great deal, and that makes it harder. I cannot sleep nights now, and nothing they give me will produce sleep. If it were not for my friends I should break down, but as long as they stand by me I can bear it. They have been, with few exceptions, true to me all through it, and I appreciate it. If they had not, I don’t know how I could have gone through with it. I certainly should have broken down. Some things have been unpleasant, but while everyone had been so kind to me i ought not to think of those. Marshal Hilliard has been very gentlemanly and kind to me in every way possible.
‘The hardest thing for me to stand here is in the night, when there is no light. They will not allow me to have even a candle to read by, and to sit in the dark all evening is very hard; but I do not want any favors that are against the rules. Mr. Wright and his wife are very kind to me, and try to make it easier to bear, but of course, they must do their duty.
‘There is one thing that hurts me very much. They say I don’t show any grief. Certainly I don’t in public. I never did reveal my feelings, and I cannot change my nature now. They say I don’t cry. They should see me when I am alone, or sometimes with my friends. It hurts me to think people say so about me. I have tried hard’–and Miss Borden raised her eyes to mine–‘to be brave and womanly through it all. I know I am innocent, and I have made up my mind that no matter what comes to me I will try to bear it bravely and make the best of it.
‘I read and sew and write. Letters are my greatest comfort and I am allowed to correspond with my friends. I find that I have a great many friends–more than I ever knew I had. I receive a great many letters of sympathy from people whom I don’t even know. I try to answer them, but I cannot reply to all. Some of them are anonymous, and are so comforting that I wish the writers would sign them.
‘Mrs. Ward–Elizabeth Stuart Phelps–wrote me a very sympathic letter. Mrs. S.S. Fessenden has been a great comfort to me. She came and has told me that the Boston women were trying to get a petition signed to secure my release on bail. They tell me that is against the laws of the State, and, while I am very, very grateful to all the people who are working for me, I think it is perhaps it is better to stay here, but their sympathy helps to keep me up.
‘I have received a great many letters from members of the W.C.T.U. and Christian Endeavor Society all over the country, and that is another help.
‘It is a little thing, I suppose, but it hurt me when they said I was not willing to have my room searched. Why, I had seen so many different men that first day, and had been questioned about everything till my head was confused and in such a whirl that I could not think. I was lying down and Dr. Bowen was just preparing some medicine for me when a man came to my room and began to question me. I knew he was a policeman because he had brass buttons on his clothes. I asked the doctor:
“Must I see all these people now? It seems as if I cannot think a momet longer, my head pains me so.”
‘He went out. When he returned he said I must see them, and then the policeman came back with another man. They spoke about my mother, and that was the time I said,
“She is not my mother, but my stepmother.” I suppose, if it was necessary that I must talk to them just then, I must tell as near as I could what was right.
‘As to our not putting on mourning, of which people spoke unfavorably, there was not a moment when I could think of such a thing as a hat or dress. Somebody was talking to me, it seemed, all the time about the murder and asking me questions, and I could not think of anything else. I don’t suppose we would have put it on anyway, because my father was very much opposed to the practice, and had always expressed himself to us so.
‘If people would only do me justice that is all I ask, but it seems as if every word I have uttered has been distorted and such a false constuction placed on it that I am bewildered. I can’t understand it.’
There was not a trace of anger in her tones–simply a pitiful expression. She recovered herself with an effort, and we said ‘good-by.’
Miss Borden stood in the door of her cell looking after us until we turned the corner of the corridor.”