“If I have any model in fiction, it is Mrs. Stowe.”

“If I have any model in fiction, it is Mrs. Stowe.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 21, 1860

Lavinia Goodell’s acquaintance with Congregationalist preacher Henry Ward Beecher has already been chronicled, but she was also an avid reader of the prose produced by two of Henry’s sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Catharine Beecher.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher was born in 1811. After teaching for several years, in 1832 she accompanied her father, Congregational minister Lyman Beecher,  to Cincinnati, Ohio when he became the president of Lane Seminary. In Cincinnati, Harriet met reformers and abolitionists and in 1833 published her first book, Primary Geography. In 1836 she married Calvin Stowe, a professor at Lane Seminary. Calvin encouraged Harriet’s writing. Harriet wrote many articles and thirty books.

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“We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man.”

“We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man.”

Margaret Fuller, 1845

Although Margaret Fuller may not widely known today, in the mid-nineteenth century she was a well known teacher, editor, and essayist whose best known book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, examined the place of women within society. Lavinia Goodell admired Margaret Fuller’s works and spent countless hours reading them in order to prepare a paper that she delivered at a December 1877 meeting of Janesville, Wisconsin’s literary society, the Mutual Improvement Club.

Photo of Margaret Fuller
Margaret Fuller

Margaret Fuller was born in Massachusetts in 1810. A precocious child, her father, a lawyer, oversaw her education, providing his daughter with tutors in Latin, philosophy, history, science,  literature, and German. After her father’s death in 1835, the family found itself quite poor, and Margaret went to Boston as a teacher. She taught in Bronson Alcott’s school and offered classes for young ladies. She became a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists. Few would accuse her of being overly modest. It was while dining at Emerson’s home that Margaret uttered what is probably her best remembered remark: “I now know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no intellect comparable with my own.”

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“We are here to study literature.”

“We are here to study literature.”

Motto of the Round Table literary society, Janesville, Wisconsin

Lavinia Goodell’s diaries and letters tell us that she was a voracious reader. She read contemporary authors (Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe), classics (Shakespeare),  and scientific works (Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”) 1870s Janesville, Wisconsin was home to two literary societies, and, not surprisingly, Lavinia was active in both.

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Spinsterhood: the fate of an unattractive woman or a radical act?

Spinsterhood: the fate of an unattractive woman or a radical act?

Have you seen the Little Women movie? The new ending would have incited Lavinia Goodell to dash off an op-ed for the Woman’s Journal.

Jo March negotiating with her editor in Greta Gerwig's 2019 adaptation of Little Women
Jo March negotiating with her editor, Little Women (2019)

Greta Gerwig has Jo March telling an editor that her heroine was adamantly opposed marriage, so the novel would not end with her wedding either Laurie or Professor Bhaer. The editor shot back: “Who cares! Girls want to see women married, not consistent. If you end your delightful book with your heroine a spinster, no one will buy it. It won’t be worth printing.” For Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer, “them’s fightin’ words!”

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