“Suppose I could become Mrs. ‘M.D.’ if I chose. Don’t choose.”

“Suppose I could become Mrs. ‘M.D.’ if I chose. Don’t choose.”

Lavinia Goodell, January 11, 1868

In the fall of 1867, Lavinia Goodell began a new job at the newly minted Harper’s Bazar magazine. (Read more about her experiences here and here.) She was living in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn with Aunt Mira and Uncle John Hill. According to her surviving correspondence, by the end of that year Lavinia was being courted by a local physician named Dr. Saxton.

The first mention of the suitor appears in a December 21, 1867 Lavinia received from her cousin Sarah Thomas. Lavinia must have mentioned the doctor in a previous letter because Sarah inquired,” Is Dr. Saxton a widower? Do you ever think of ‘the mixture’ in connection with him?” A week later, Sarah wrote again, “I think it looks rather suspicious about Dr. Saxton. You know you are fond of old gentlemen.”

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“I have been up to the Central Park. It is a beautiful place.”

“I have been up to the Central Park. It is a beautiful place.”

Lavinia Goodell, July 30, 1863

When warm sunny days arrive, people enjoy visiting their local parks. Lavinia Goodell was no different. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Lavinia, who was living in Brooklyn, visited New York’s Central Park for the first time with her parents and was thoroughly enchanted with it.

She wrote to her sister, Maria:

I have been up to the Central Park twice since I wrote you. Last week, Wednesday, Father and mother and I went – just us three. We started in the morning, carried a lunch, and staid all day.

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“I have seen Niagara!”

“I have seen Niagara!”

Lavinia Goodell, September 20, 1861

Although people tend to think of Lavinia Goodell as a very serious woman who devoted her life to working to advance causes such as women’s rights, temperance, and prison reform, she also had a much lighter side that is not well known. Lavinia had a delightful sense of humor, and she also had a sense of adventure. She loved to experience new things. She read the popular books of the time. She kept up on current fashion trends. And she enjoyed travelling and seeing new places. She particularly relished seeing the country’s natural wonders. In the autumn of 1861 she had the unexpected pleasure of seeing one of the nation’s most spectacular attractions: Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls, c. 1860. (Stock photo. Does not depict Lavinia)
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“From a Land of Slavery to One of Freedom”

“From a Land of Slavery to One of Freedom”

Lavinia Goodell grew up in a household imbued with the notion of equal rights for all, and throughout her life she was at ease with people who were different from herself. One of her classmates at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary in the 1850s was a girl from the south.

Here is how the schoolmate recalled Lavinia:

Soon I learned that Miss Goodell was considered the orator of the class, and one of the best scholars in the school. I was told that she was a great abolitionist and as I was from the south and the daughter of a slave holder, I did not expect her friendship. To my surprise, she took me at once under her wing, and was one of my best friends.

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“What a good father we have!”

“What a good father we have!”

–Lavinia Goodell, March 10, 1864

Lavinia Goodell and her father, William, shared a close relationship founded on mutual respect. William was 47 years old when Lavinia was born in 1839. His wife was 42. (Read about Lavinia’s birth here.) Their only other living child, Maria, was 12 and soon went off to school and then married, so for much of her youth Lavinia was the only child in the home.

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Posted by admin in Principia years, Growing Up: 1839-1859, Family, 2 comments

“Do not be alarmed when you hear of the great riots. Your trio are safe, and we trust the worst is over.”

“Do not be alarmed when you hear of the great riots. Your trio are safe, and we trust the worst is over.”

Lavina Goodell, July 17, 1863

At a time when many cities have seen protests, with some erupting into violence and clashes with police, the chaotic scenes displayed in our modern media might look somewhat familiar to Lavinia Goodell, since in the summer of 1863 she and her parents experienced New York City’s deadly draft riots firsthand.

By early 1863, as the Civil War dragged on, Union forces faced a serious manpower shortage, so President Lincoln’s government passed a strict new conscription law making all male citizens between the ages of 20 and 35 and all unmarried men between 35 and 45 subject to military service. All eligible men were entered into a lottery. Men could buy their way out of service by either hiring a substitute or paying $300 to the government, but since that was a year’s salary it was an option available only to the wealthy. Because African Americans were not considered citizens, they were exempt from the draft. Anti-war newspapers published inflammatory attacks on the new draft law, aimed at inciting the white working class.

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Posted by admin in Principia years, Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 1 comment

Cholera: NYC’s 19th Century COVID-19

Cholera: NYC’s 19th Century COVID-19

As the United States struggles to deal with COVID-19, it may be useful to remember that pandemics are nothing new, nor is the way local governments deal with them. In 1866, while Lavinia Goodell was living in Brooklyn, teaching at a wealthy merchant’s home – (Learn more about her teaching experiences here and here) – cholera claimed the lives of 1137 people in New York City.

Cholera is caused by bacteria that produces severe diarrhea which can lead to dehydration.  As New York’s population grew, sites around the city were littered with cesspools, rotting food and dead carcasses from butcheries. The Board of Health issued orders to clean up sites and urged citizens to engage in better sanitary practices.

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Posted by admin in Teaching years, Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 2 comments

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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Posted by admin in Principia years, Reading interests, 0 comments