“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

“Do not be surprised if you are sued for defamation.”

— William Goodell, September 28, 1867

By all accounts, Lavinia Goodell had planned to continue teaching indefinitely at the Brooklyn home of Mr. Lynn, a wealthy merchant, but at the end of the school year in 1867 a bitter dispute arose between her and Lynn over her promised wages. As Lavinia tells it:

I did not ask him for anything for the time that I did not teach…. All I asked was that he should pay me what he agreed to for the time I did teach. He promised – and I had his written word for it – to pay me $300 a year, if we had 12 scholars, promising verbally that if we had over 12 I should have all the extra money, over and above what came in for 12.

We had 12 all the time, and much of the time 15. We had no settlement till I came to leave. Then I brought in my bill for $224 for 3/4 of a year; and $46 for the extra scholars; whereupon he positively refused to pay me excepting at the rate of $200 a year, or $150 for 3/4 of a year, saying that was all he promised. I showed him the letter in which he promised $300, and he was the angriest man you ever saw. He was rude, and insulting, and he said he should pay me no more than he pleased, and that I could prove nothing against him as the bargain was not a legal document with a seal. I never was as surprised in my life. At the final settlement, this fall – by holding out about it, and making him think I might do something – I brought him to a compromise, and he paid me at the rate of $275 a year, no allowance for extra scholars. A lawyer, who appears to be well posted, and is secretary to the mayor said I could have received the whole by going to law; and that I was foolish not to do it. Mary Booth thought it was outrageous, and it was with her advice that I wrote him that letter. I am not sorry I did it. I think such villainy ought to be exposed for the protection of innocent and unsuspecting people – not, of course, from motives of revenge. Everybody who knows it is even more indignant than I have been over it.

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“I find I am getting quite a reputation as a good teacher.”

“I find I am getting quite a reputation as a good teacher.”

Lavinia Goodell, October 14, 1866

When the anti-slavery newspaper, The Principia, ceased publication after the end of the Civil War, Lavinia Goodell was out of a job. In September 1865 she began a new career as a teacher in a home located at 26 South 10th Street, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  Lavinia’s new employer was a wealthy merchant. Lavinia described her new position to her sister:

I have just formed an engagement to teach in a family… at a salary of $300 including boards & washing…. I answered an advertisement, and the advertiser turned out … to be an old acquaintance…. Mr. Lynn…. There are two little girls, 10 and 10, and a boy 8. The plan is to have a small house school having nine children outside of the family, making the whole number twelve. This I think I shall like. Mr. and Mrs. Lynn seem like very pleasant people and I think I shall enjoy living there. They tell me I shall be just like one of the family,… Mr. L. … received 150 answers to his advertisement, but gave me the preference.

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“O, ‘Ria, I have seen Honest Abe!”

Lavinia Goodell, February 21, 1861

Abraham Lincoln was elected the nation’s sixteenth president on November 6, 1860. In mid February, 1861, Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois on a rail journey that would take him on a whistle-stop tour through numerous towns in advance of his March 4 inauguration. On the afternoon of February 19,  twenty-one year old Lavinia Goodell joined throngs of other New Yorkers to watch the president-elect’s carriage procession in mid-town Manhattan. According to the February 20, 1861 New York Times, the special train carrying Lincoln and his entourage arrived at the new depot of the Hudson River Railroad on 30th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues punctually at 3:00 p.m. Lincoln was greeted by a jubilant crowd:

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