“Abject submission is not the way to an honorable peace.”

Lavinia Goodell, September 1879

Lavinia Goodell never married or had children, but she was a lifelong proponent of full equal rights for women, including marriage equality.  In the fall of 1879, she wrote a series of articles (read more here) countering pieces that appeared in the Christian Union newspaper that admonished women to defer to their husbands. Lavinia’s rebuttals ran in Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal. Lavinia’s first offering, titled “The way to peace,” was written in late August 1879 and appeared in the September 13 Woman’s Journal issue.

Lavinia began by quoting the Christian Union’s premise that wives should submit themselves to their husbands because “a two-headed creature is always a monstrosity.”

For Lavinia, this was “enough to make the blood of any intelligent, self-respecting woman boil with indignation.”

Lavinia went on to say:

Abject submission is not the way to an honorable peace…. The only true harmony is the harmony of equality; the harmony to be obtained by a recognition of mutual rights and duties…. Children who see their mother habitually ruled by their father, and never venturing to have a will of her own, lose respect for her, and will not submit to her control. Her sons despise her and take the earliest opportunity, on the approach of manhood, to assume over her the same air of superiority they have seen their father indulge.

Continuing her theme, Lavinia said that children who saw their father tyrannize their mother would attempt to tyrannize each other. This, she said, was to be expected, since if the parents cannot work together in harmony unless one is constantly subject to the other, how can the children play together on any other terms. She wrote:

If the man should be “head” in the family, it is but appropriate that the brothers should assume the dictatorship over their sisters; and when their time comes to marry they will enter the relation with the same idea that it is their prerogative to rule and the wife’s duty to submit.

Lavinia found the Christian Union’s comparison of family discipline to that of an army absurd. In her opinion, marriage was more like a business partnership, and she said she had never heard that in such a partnership it is necessary for one partner to be the absolute “head” of the other. In Lavinia’s opinion, it would be more in keeping with the purpose of a Christian periodical to exhort husbands to recognize the equal rights of wives to avoid strife and to set a good example for the children. She closed by saying:

The wise woman will not always “submit.” She will have, if necessary, a contest, short, sharp, and decisive, which shall be followed by a peace based on equality, rather than live a life of degrading and humiliating submission…. Liberty, justice and equality are as sweet to woman as to man, and as necessary both to her highest good and his.

Read Lavinia’s entire piece here.

Lavinia died less than seven months after writing this article, but her advocacy for women’s rights continued until early 1880 when her health declined precipitously and she went to Milwaukee to seek unsuccessful treatment at a Turkish bath establishment.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diary; Lavinia Goodell, “The Way to Peace,” published in Woman’s Journal, Vol. 10, No. 37, 9/13/79, seq. 295, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.


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