“It is very proper for a man of fourscore to be so honored.”

“It is very proper for a man of fourscore to be so honored.”

Josiah Cady to Lavinia Goodell, July 14, 1854

Deacon Josiah Cady, Lavinia Goodell’s maternal grandfather, was born in Killingly, Connecticut in 1774. He lived in Providence, Rhode Island much of his adult life. An 1830 census listed his occupation as shoemaker.

Josiah played a prominent role in the Goodell family. William Goodell, Lavinia’s father, was boarding with Josiah in Providence in 1812 when he met – and became smitten with – Josiah’s daughter Clarissa. William and Clarissa married in 1823. William Goodell’s father died when William was young, and Josiah Cady became a surrogate father to him. Scores of letters between the two men survive, and they always referred to each other as “Father” and “Son.”

Sometime before 1850, Josiah had moved to Lebanon, Connecticut and was living with his daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Peleg Thomas, and their children, one of whom was Lavinia’s close confidante, Sarah Thomas. Although there is scant record of communication passing between Lavinia and Josiah, a letter from 1854 recently came to light that indicates a true affection existed between fifteen year old Lavinia and her seventy-nine year old grandfather.

Josiah Cady’s letter to Lavinia Goodell July, 1854
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“I am afraid you will be disappointed about the book.”

“I am afraid you will be disappointed about the book.”

Maria Frost, January 21, 1856.

Lavinia Goodell published numerous articles and stories in her lifetime, but she was not the only family member with literary tendencies. Her father, William Goodell, was a prolific writer who authored many books and countless articles, poems, and letters to the editor. It is not as well known that Lavinia’s sister, Maria Goodell Frost,  was also a published author and was the only Goodell sister to publish a book.

Maria Goodell Frost

In 1855, the American Reform Tract and Book Society offered a $100 premium for the best manuscript for a religious anti-slavery Sunday school book. Out of the forty-six manuscripts received, the Society chose Maria’s work, which was titled Gospel Fruits, or Christianity Illustrated. In addition to the prestige of seeing her book in print, the prize money was a welcome bonus for Maria’s young family. (For perspective, Maria’s pastor husband’s salary was approximately $500 a year, so $100 was a significant boost to the family’s income.) Maria received the good news that she had won the competition in late December 1855.

Letter to Maria Goodell Frost from American Tract & Book Society, December 20, 1855
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“Health is more important than writing.”

“Health is more important than writing.”

Clarissa Goodell to Lavinia Goodell, August 5, 1861

Lavinia Goodell grew up in a family that believed in healthy living practices. Good nutrition, scrupulous sanitary customs, and regular exercise were part of their daily program. Here is how Lavinia’s sister, Maria Frost, described the household routine at the time of Lavinia’s birth in 1839:

The habits of the household [included] regularly stated hours of rising and retiring, the table regimen was according to the principles of Dr. Sylvester Graham, with some exceptions suggested by constitutional needs, as learned by careful experience and strong common sense.

 Sylvester Graham may not be a household name today, but a version of a product he developed is in many homes. Yes, Dr. Graham was the inventor of the graham cracker.

Dr. Sylvester Graham
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“There has been a great excitement here about a murder lately committed.”

“There has been a great excitement here about a murder lately committed.”

Maria Frost, July 18, 1855

In the course of researching Lavinia Goodell’s life and times, we have come across accounts of many little known, but interesting, historical events that impacted her or her family. For example, did you know that there was a public lynching in Janesville, Wisconsin in the summer of 1855? Here is the story that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Wisconsin State Journal, July 13, 1855
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“Dont try to be a man.”

“Don’t try to be a man.”

Maria Frost to Lavinia Goodell, April 13, 1858

In the spring of 1858, shortly before she graduated from the Brooklyn Heights Seminary, Lavinia Goodell was unsure what the next chapter of her life should hold, so she asked her sister for advice, saying:

I must have some life plan.  I don’t believe in living to get married, if that comes along in the natural course of events—very well, but to make it virtually my end and aim, to square all my plans to it, and study and learn for no other purpose, does not suit my ideas. … I would be dependent on my own exertions, be firmly established on my own basis.  I would study, investigate, try to do good.  I would aim at the highest. I think the study of law would be pleasant, but the practice attendant with many embarrassments. Indeed I fear it would be utterly impractical. Our folks would not hear of my going to college; I should not dare to mention it…. In all probability I must teach, that is all a woman can do.

On April 12, 1858, Maria Frost penned a lengthy response which made it clear she did not look kindly on Lavinia’s aspirations to enter any male dominated profession.

Maria Goodell Frost
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“She would love to live—very much—she thought of so many things she should love to do”

“She would love to live—very much—she thought of so many things she should love to do”

With ministers, social reformers, and politicians often stopping by the Goodell house, Lavinia certainly grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment. That may partly explain her precociousness. On the downside, little Lavinia did not spend much time playing with children her own age. Her parents were old enough to be her grandparents. Her sole sibling, Maria, was 12 years her senior. And frequent illness kept her from attending the district school. All that changed when cousin Amanda came to stay with the Goodells. To Maria, the visit was so transformative that she devoted a short chapter to Amanda in Lavinia’s biography.

Faux Lavinia, maybe Amanda Goodell?
Amanda Goodell?

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Black Lives Mattered to the Goodells

Black Lives Mattered to the Goodells

Lavinia Goodell grew up in a staunch abolitionist family. In 1833, her father William Goodell assisted in organizing the American Anti-Slavery Society. He started the “Emancipator” newspaper and in later years edited other similar papers, including “The Friend of Man,” “The Radical Abolitionist” and “The Principia,” on which Lavinia worked alongside him.

William Goodell - Lavinia's father

Even in the north, abolitionists were frequently persecuted and mobbed and their lives threatened. According to the In Memoriam pamphlet written by his daughters after his death in 1878:

Mr. Goodell was at one time obliged to leave his home in Brooklyn, with his family, and seek shelter in an obscure locality of New York, till the feeling of the mob-oligarchy had spent itself; at another time he barely escaped the grasp of an incoming mob, who clamorously offered a price for his head, as they put to rout an anti-slavery meeting being quietly held in a public hall in New York.

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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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