“A man has got to be something, if he is going to win something.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 1860

From 1859 until early 1865, Lavinia Goodell assisted her father in editing and publishing the Principia, an anti-slavery newspaper, from its offices in lower Manhattan. She also wrote dozens of pieces for the paper. None carried a full byline. Many were simply signed “L.” In the spring of 1860, twenty year old Lavinia wrote a series of articles titled “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife” in which she offered some good natured but sly commentary advice on the qualities women were likely to be drawn to.

She began:

She then admonished gentlemen that if they wished to win the hearts of such perfect creatures, they had better make sure they were worthy.

She queried, “Do you suppose a being so full of sweetness, goodness, purity, saintliness, is going to love a common-place individual like yourself? … Do you believe your angels are such consummate dunces? If you do, you will find out your mistake before you have done with it.”

She went on:

If Ellen must be up with the sun, singing around the house like a bird and working like a bee, her hair all smooth and shining, her dress perfectly neat and tidy, and her face wreathed in smiles, do you believe she will be likely to fall in love with a young man who stumbles out of bed after the second breakfast bell, and two or three knocks on the door by his grandmother, puts himself hastily to rights, and comes down stairs with hair representing every point in the compass, and some points not in the compass, and a face expressive of anything but tranquility of mind? Not a bit of it!

Lavinia continued:

And you want a woman who is strong. Yes, yes; even you – man – strong, stern, brave, fearless man, who are always talking about the oak and ivy, and how frail and delicate woman is, and what a beautiful thing it is to have somebody to cherish, and protect and defend! All very fine in fair weather, when no protection and defense is needed, but when the storm of adversity comes, you want her to be strong, and stand up, bravely, and face it, with you, and aid, and cheer, and strengthen and encourage you, if you are likely to fall. Yes: she must be strong! But will a woman of so much strength, and depth of character esteem a man who hasn’t some pluck? Will she?

She concluded by informing her readers that her advice to young men was just getting started.

Read the entire piece here.

Sources consulted: “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife, Chapter I,” by Lavinia Goodell, published in The Principia, April 14, 1860.

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