“Am glad you like the photo.”

Lavinia Goodell, January 9, 1871

Lavinia Goodell mentioned having her photograph taken on several occasions. One of her sittings occurred the week before Christmas in 1870. At the time, Lavinia was living with her aunt and uncle in Brooklyn and working at Harper’s Bazar in lower Manhattan. She wrote to her parents on December 18 that she was enclosing $3.00 for them to frame a photograph which she was going to send them for their Christmas present. She said, “Don’t know how good it will be.” Two days later she wrote her parents again, saying “The photograph is done & I have ordered it mailed to you today, from the photographer, as they can pack it best.”

Although we have no have no way to know for certain, because the photograph bears no identifying mark, we think there is a good chance that this is the photo:

By January 4, 1871, Lavinia had received word from her parents that the photograph had not yet arrived, and she was not pleased:

I have just been around to the photographer to see about it. They said they mailed it as ordered & the fault must be in the post office Dept. It was packed flat open between two thin boards & encased in a paper bag, with the name of the photographers printed on the outside ; “R.A. Lewis, 160 Chatham St., N.Y.” … Make your postmaster exert himself about it & I guess it will come to light. If it don’t I’ll have a better one taken, for I am not altogether satisfied with this.

R.A. Lewis was a well known New York photographer, whose studio was not far from Lavinia’s office at Harper’s.

R.A. Lewis advertisement from January 12, 1866 New York Tribune

A letter written to The Photographic Times & American Photographer after Lewis’s death said:

[Lewis] conducted a most profitable business for many years on that great thoroughfare, Chatham Street, new York. His business was always conducted in such a manner that he made friends of his customers. His patrons said that his word was as good as his photographs. One of the main reasons of his success in business was the rule, which he early made, that no sitter should be allowed to leave his studio without expressing entire satisfaction with the results.

By January 9, 1871 Lavinia had received word that the photo had arrived in Janesville. She wrote her parents, “Don’t see where the picture has been all the while, but glad it reached its destination at last.” Her parents evidently complimented the photo and inquired whether Lavinia had sought professional help to style her hair. She responded:

Am glad you like the photo. I wore my black. It is trimmed just as it was when it was first made. I never employed a barber in my life & never thought of such a thing. Thought my hair looked worse than usual the day I went to the photographers.

We know that Lavinia had at least one more photograph taken, possibly in 1876. By that time her health had started to fail, and she looked tired and gaunt. In the photo above we see a well-dressed, well-coiffed, confident young woman with a very responsible job in Manhattan and many friends and outside interests. Although she did not realize it at the time, Lavinia’s life would change dramatically in the months to come. By Christmas 1871 she would be living with her parents in Janesville and beginning to think about the next chapter in her life: becoming a lawyer.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letters to William & Clarissa Goodell (December 18, 1870; December 20, 1870; January 4, 1871; January 9, 1871); New York Tribune (January 12. 1866); New York Times (September 24, 1891); Letter dated September 15, 1891 and printed in The Photographic Times & American Photographer.  

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