On June 20, 1893, Lizzie Borden was declared innocent of the crime of murdering her father and stepmother.
The National Archives holds a little piece of her history from before the murders. A month before her 30th birthday, Lizzie Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, had sailed for Europe.
In the late 1800s, more and more Americans ventured abroad. The well-off sailed to Europe to see the sights and acquire culture. Novelists such Henry James and Edith Wharton were traveling themselves and writing about Americans abroad.
Lizzie’s passport application for this trip, signed by her on June 4, 1890, is now in the National Archives. Passports were not required at that time, but the State Department issued almost 370,000 between 1877 and 1909. The National Archives holds passport applications from October 1795 to March 1925.
Photographs were not required for passports until the end of 1914, so on Lizzie Borden’s application, there is only a written “description of applicant.” Lizzie declared that she is five feet, three inches tall with grey eyes, light brown hair, and a “full” face. Her signature appears below the oath of allegiance, and she requests that the passport be sent to Thomas J. Borden of Fall River, a distant cousin.
Thomas Borden’s two daughters, Carrie and Anna, were among the women traveling with Lizzie, and their applications were also filed on June 4. All three passports were to be directed to Mr. Borden, who was likely overseeing arrangements for his daughters and their companion.
Two years later, Lizzie Borden became nationally famous for her arrest and trial for the murder of her father, Andrew, and her stepmother, Abby. She was acquitted of murdering them with a hatchet, but her name lives on in American folklore as the woman who dealt “forty whacks.”
This post, written by Mary Ryan, originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Prologue magazine.