Update: Emily Gay’s family connection

Hi everybody!  First off, I would like to extend a lot of thank yous:

– thanks to all for waiting patiently through the long delay in activity here on the blog
– thanks also to everyone for all your emails over the past few months, including all of you who have have shared information about some early women photographers. including updates, photos and/or additional bits of information about some of the women I’ve talked about previously here on Photographs, Pistol & Parasols. My plan is to share the materials that were sent to me, along with other updates, here on the blog in the coming weeks.

But first up, I want to follow-up on a question from last fall that people have been asking about the Gay Studio in Fall River, Massachusetts. Emily Gay and the Gay Studio were included in my September ZOOM talk to the PHSNE group. (If you didn’t have a chance to see the talk “live”, the recording is available here.)

Once you hear about her in my talk, you’ll  know that talented and resilient Emily Gay ran Gay’s Gallery of Art (later Gay’s Art Galleries) in Fall River, MA for over 4 decades starting in 1878. Here’s a quick recap of some of the main points about her life that I included in my talk:

  • Gay’s Gallery of Art was a photograph studio established in Fall River, MA in the 1860s by the Canadian-born Edwin F. Gay. He opened his photo studio around the time he married Emily Borden (who was from New England) in 1863.
  • In 1878 Edwin Gay went as little nuts, first shooting his brother-in-law (who was injured but not killed), later abducting his youngest daughter and fleeing to Canada. In 1879 Edwin Gay dies in Canada from TB, and their daughter is returned to her mother in Fall River, MA.
  • Shortly before all that happened, though,  Edwin became too ill from TB to continue running the studio, and so his wife, Emily, officially stepped in as the proprietor of the studio circa 1877. Not only does she keep the studio going through all the drama in her personal life in 1878-79, she conintues to runs the studio well into the 20-century; her daughter takes over the studio when Emily retires in the 1920s.

Anyway, the question(s) that people have asked about Emily Gay and the Gay studio in Fall River are actually related to a different infamous episdode that happened in that town in the 1890s. Emily’s maiden name was Borden.  Since she’s in Fall River, MA, people first want to know if there’s any connection to a famous Borden woman from that town. Specifically,

1. Was Emily Gay (née Borden) related to Lizzie Borden?

As I mentioned during the talk, yes, they are related, although it is not a close connection.

Here’s a bit more detail that I didn’t go into in the talk: Their common ancestor was a man named John Borden (1640-1716). Lizzie’s branch of the Borden family are descendants of John Bordon’s son, Richard Borden (1671-1732), while Emily’s branch of the Borden family is descended from one of John Borden’s other sons, Joseph Borden (1680-1715). I guess that makes them very distant cousins of a sort. (Many thanks to my husband, Chris, for taking the time to work this all out!)

The question I have gotten as a followup to question 1 is question 2 below:

2. Did Lizzie Borden ever had her photo taken at the Gay Studio, since it is a prominent photo studio there in Fall River during Lizzie Borden’s lifetime?

To answer that question, I contacted the Fall River Historical Society and Museum. And the answer is — Yes! As it turns out, there is a famous photo, known as the “daisy photo,” that was taken at the Gay Gallery.

Lizzie Borden ("Daisy" photo by the Gay Studio)
Photo of Lizzie Borden (“Daisy” photo, taken by the Gay Studio in Fall River, MA)

Many thanks to the staff at the Fall River Historical Society and Museum for help answering this question.

BTW, for more information about Lizzie Bod and her family, I refer you to this book, Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River, by Michael Martins and Dennis A. Binette.