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Sylvia Bassett Knowlton 1852-1937

Portrait painted in 1930 (courtesy Sippican Historical Society)

The portrayal of Mrs. Hosea Knowlton in the 1975 film version of the Borden case starring Elizabeth Montgomery was far from the mark of the actual Mrs. Sophia Knowlton.  Bonnie Bartlett, who played Sylvia Knowlton in the film bemoans the heaviness of a “woman’s skirts” in a man’s world of 1892 and plays a domestic and submisive woman in the mindset of the period.

Bonnie Bartlett

The real Mrs. Knowlton, born in 1852 in New Bedford, became a teacher after graduating from Bridgewater Normal School. She taught in Westport, Massachusetts (a short distance from Fall River) before her marriage in 1873 to Knowlton.  Knowlton’s New Bedford law practice broadened her circle of acquaintances to that city where she became an energetic organizer in public endeavors and president of the New Bedford Women’s Club where she once introduced Winston Churchill as a guest speaker.  At the time of the trial, she and Hosea had a summer rental in Marion at 294 Front Street.  In 1900, the couple built a summer house at283 Front Street, where he died in December of 1902; known as Knowlton House, the building now serves as a dormitory for Tabor Academy. Daggett House (275 Front Street), also a Tabor dorm, was built in 1913 as a permanent residence for the then-widowed Mrs. Knowlton.

She is buried in New Bedford.  Hosea Knowlton’s remains were cremated in Boston and scattered over the fishing harbor in Marion.