“I suppose you had to give your real name to the publishers.”

“I suppose you had to give your real name to the publishers.”

Clarissa Goodell, April 21, 1866

There is an old adage that writers should write what they know. Lavinia Goodell took that advice to heart. She often drew on her personal experiences for her short stories, and she clearly based some of her characters on herself, her friends, and her family. Sometimes her keen powers of observation hit a bit too close to home. A case in point was her story, “A Psychological Experiment,” which appeared in the June 1866 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

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“I like my father and Mr. Jocelyn better than any other men.”

“I like my father and Mr. Jocelyn better than any other men.”

Lavinia Goodell, 1865

Reverend Simeon S. Jocelyn and his family were good friends of the Goodells for many years. Both Lavinia Goodell and her father benefitted from Rev. Jocelyn’s advice.

Rev. Simeon S. Jocelyn
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“I have been deeply interested in Dr. Zak’s book.”

“I have been deeply interested in Dr. Zak’s book.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 25, 1861

 Lavinia Goodell was a voracious reader and had eclectic tastes. In addition to reading the popular fiction of the day, she was also very interested in medical and scientific topics. For a time she had a roommate, Nancie Monelle, who was studying medicine, and her lifelong friend Mary Ann Wattles was also a physician.

One of the pioneering woman physicians in the United States was Marie E. Zakrewska. Not only did Lavinia eagerly read the doctor’s autobiography, she and Zakrewska shared a close mutual friend, and there is certainly a possibility that Lavinia met Zakrewska.

Photo of Dr. Marie Zakrewska, a pioneering woman physician in the United States.
Dr. Marie E. Zakrewska
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“Mary Booth is as good a friend as ever.”

“Mary Booth is as good a friend as ever.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 26, 1866

 When Lavinia Goodell went to work for the newly minted Harper’s Bazar magazine in 1867 (read about her experiences here and here), she worked with and shared an office with Bazar’s editor, Mary Louise Booth, one of the best known and best paid women in publishing.

Mary Louise Booth

Mary Booth was born on Long Island in 1831. She displayed great literary tendencies at an early age and was naturally inclined toward the study of languages. By the time she was 20, she had begun translating foreign literary works into English. In 1859 she published A Complete History of the City of New York, which received rave reviews, and later published two revised editions. During the Civil War, Mary Booth translated Gasparin’s The Uprising of a Great People in the course of a week during which she worked round the clock.  President Lincoln wrote her a letter of thanks for her help in strengthening the spirit of the American people.

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“Miss Monelle is quite a character.”

“Miss Monelle is quite a character.”

Lavinia Goodell, November 21, 1869

In 1869, in an effort to improve her German language skills, Lavinia Goodell moved from her aunt and uncle’s home in Brooklyn into an upper room of a home on East 23rd Street in Manhattan owned by a German doctor. For a time she had a roommate who was a medical student at the Woman’s Medical College and Infirmary, an institution recently opened by sisters Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell. Lavinia found Nancie Monelle very companionable, although they had divergent interests.

Nancia Monelle, Lavinia Goodell's roommate and a student at the Women's Medical College run by Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell
Nancie Monelle

Lavinia wrote to her sister:

My new chum is quite a character. She is short, plump, black eyed, rosy, jolly and good-natured. Supports herself and studies medicine. She is very gay, too, and quite a flirt, and fond of the gentlemen. We get along admirably, because I don’t care a fig for them & am quite willing she should have them all to herself…. Miss Monelle has already laid up money enough to take her thro’ the medical college. She has been a teacher several years.

Nancie Monelle was born in New York in 1841. Her ancestors were French. Her great grandfather had come to America with the young Marquis de Lafayette and liked the country so much that he never went home again. Nancie graduated from a college in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1861 and taught at various schools and colleges, including Vassar. While at Vassar she decided to study medicine. Mary Ann Wattles, a fellow student at the Woman’s Medical College and a longtime friend of Lavinia, recommended that the two women room together.

Lavinia enjoyed Nancie’s high spirits. She reported to her parents that they “have lots of fun laughing over the eccentricities of our German friends.” But at Christmas 1869, when the Germans stealthily tried to get the women drunk, teetotaling Lavinia was disappointed in Nancie, telling her sister:

My roommate had no conscience about the  matter, but drank glass after glass till she dared not drink any longer & then pretended to & threw the wine away furtively, when they were not looking, all to be “social.” I was indignant at her, for she knows better.

By the spring of 1870, Nancie Monelle had taken a room at the medical college.

New York Infirmary and Women's Medical College

Although Lavinia did not mention her again, Nancie Monelle went on to have a distinguished career. She graduated from medical school in 1872 after writing her thesis on cholera and earning highest honors in surgery. In 1873, she became a physician missionary in India for the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She was the first woman physician to go alone into a native Indian state. According to the Missionary Society’s 1896 report, “The ruler of the province furnished elephants, a regiment of sepoys and a band of music to escort her to the palaces of the various noblemen.” After three years in India, after establishing a dispensary and hospital and treating 40,000 patients, she married Rev. Henry Mansell, a Methodist minister. The couple remained in India. In the 1880s, during a cholera epidemic, Dr. Mansell took charge of the dispensary with native assistants and was so successful that the Indian municipality sent her a handsome sum for the purchase of medicine.

In the 1890s, Dr. Mansell became appalled at the Indian custom of marriages being arranged for very young children, which sometimes resulted in grievous injuries, and even death, to the young girls. Dr. Mansell drew up a petition, signed by 55 other women physicians,  raising the marriageable age for girls to fourteen.  The government raised the marriageable age to twelve, which was seen as an important step in the domestic and social life of the Indian people.

Dr. Mansell died in India in 1903 and was buried there. Her husband died in 1911 and is buried in Poughkeepsie.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letters to Maria Frost (November 21, 1869 December 30, 1869;) Lavinia Goodell’s letters to William and Clarissa Goodell (November 28, 1869; March 21, 1870; April 17, 1870); Frances J. Baker, The Story of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, Hunt & Eaton, New York (1896); Mary Sparkes Wheeler, First Decade of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Phillips & Hunt, New York (1893); Janice P. Nimura, The Doctors Blackwell, W. W. Norton & Co. (2021).   

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“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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