“Went down street. Got my business cards.”

“Went down street. Got my business cards.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 18, 1874

The William Goodell Family papers, housed in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, contain hundreds of letters written or received by Lavinia Goodell, starting from her teenage years in the 1850s and continuing until her death in 1880. In addition, the papers include scores of letters to and from other family members, some of which mention Lavinia. A recent visit to Berea College turned up an exciting – and never before seen – find: a business card that Lavinia had printed just days after her admission to the bar in June 1874.

After passing a rigorous examination in the early evening of June 17, 1874, Lavinia was eager to begin practicing law. Her diary entry for the next day reads, “After tea went down street, got mail and called at Gazette office to get cards printed.” She picked up her business cards three days later.

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“Mrs. Stanton has sent us her picture and Miss Anthony’s to hang up in our office.”

“Mrs. Stanton has sent us her picture and Miss Anthony’s to hang up in our office.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 5, 1879

Lavinia Goodell had a lifelong admiration for the work Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony did to promote women’s rights, particularly suffrage. Lavinia’s mother, Clarissa Cady Goodell, was a cousin of Stanton’s through her fourth great grandfather. Lavinia, along with her mother and sister, followed Stanton’s and Anthony’s writings and Lavinia regularly corresponded with both women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
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Posted by admin in Friends, Women's rights, 1 comment

“Next Sunday, Mrs. Van Cott again.”

“Next Sunday, Mrs. Van Cott again.”

Lavinia Goodell, July 13, 1873

Lavinia Goodell championed the right of all women to enter the profession of their choice. She believed that by developing their minds, women would be able to support themselves financial and  potentially avoid the need to embark upon a loveless marriage solely for economic reasons. She strongly supported women entering the clergy, a notion that was anathema even to some otherwise progressive nineteenth century men.  

Lavinia made a point of going to hear women lecturers who came to Janesville, Wisconsin. In the summer of 1873, she went to several lectures given by Maggie Van Cott, the first woman licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal church.

Maggie Van Cott
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Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, Women's rights, 0 comments

“You had become a person in the eyes of the Wis. Supreme Court.”

“You had become a person in the eyes of the Wis. Supreme Court.”

Emma Brown letter to Lavinia Goodell, July 11, 1879

Emma Brown, publisher of the Wisconsin Chief temperance newspaper, helped give Lavinia Goodell’s nascent legal career a boost in the summer of 1874.

Emma was born in Auburn, New York in 1827.

Emma Brown

In 1849, Emma and her brother, Thurlow W. Brown, became co-publishers and co-editors of the Cayuga Chief, a temperance newspaper. By 1857, the Browns had relocated to Wisconsin, purchased assets of a defunct Jefferson newspaper and renamed their paper the Wisconsin Chief. Emma Brown supplemented their income by operating a printing shop.

Thurlow Brown was a sought after speaker, and the Chief reprinted many of his speeches. Emma rarely signed her contributions to the paper. When Thurlow died in 1866, few expected the  Chief to survive, but Emma Brown not only soldiered on, she made the paper her own and  began to use it to promote women’s rights.

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“The expectorations of tobacco juice in the Circuit Court sometimes become alarming.”

“The expectorations of tobacco juice in the Circuit Court sometimes become alarming.”

Lavinia Goodell, 1876

Lavinia Goodell’s work in the temperance movement is well known, but she also had a lifelong aversion to the use of tobacco products. Lavinia grew up in a household that followed the principles of Dr. Sylvester Graham. In the 1830s, Lavinia’s father had lived in one of Graham’s boarding houses in New York City. Residents who were caught using tobacco were asked to leave. (Drinking coffee, tea, chocolate or liquor were also evictable offenses.)

In the 1860s and 1870s, chewing tobacco was common among men of all economic stripes, and spittoons were a ubiquitous fixture in residences and commercial buildings. Unfortunately, the lack of a spittoon did not dampen gents’ propensity for chewing and spitting. The Janesville Gazette chided local men:

Janesville Daily Gazette, January 14, 1879
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“A lady who was deaf had cured herself by wearing warm biscuit & butter on her ears.”

“A lady who was deaf had cured herself by wearing warm biscuit & butter on her ears.”

Maria Goodell Frost, July 11, 1853

Lavinia Goodell’s sister, Maria Frost, began losing her hearing as a young woman.

Maria Goodell Frost

Maria’s obituary, published soon after her death on December 31, 1899, said:

[T]he affliction of deafness … began soon after her marriage and gradually increased. For thirty years she heard no public speaking, for twenty years no music, and for ten years she has hardly heard the voices of her nearest friends.

Maria’s letters indicate that her hearing loss was already quite severe in her twenties, and her inability to hear caused her a great deal of distress throughout her adult life. So called miracle cures – and the unscrupulous people who profit from them – are nothing new. Maria pursued a variety of questionable treatments, all unsuccessful.

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“I am filled with horror at the idea of you not having any reading.”

“I am filled with horror at the idea of you not having any reading.”

Lavinia Goodell to Maria Frost, March 10, 1867

The Goodell family was very well read, and their letters frequently mentioned their current literary selections. When Lavinia’s sister Maria Frost and her family moved from New York state to Janesville, Wisconsin in the late 1860s, Maria found herself missing many of the amenities of life in the east, especially the lack of a public library. Lavinia was horrified that Janesville had no library and offered her sister some suggestions:

Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost, March 10, 1867
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“I suppose your mother has told you of our tip over going to the society.”

“I suppose your mother has told you of our tip over going to the society.”

Sarah Thomas to Lavinia Goodell, February 9, 1866

Researching mid-nineteenth century history gives one an appreciation for the many modern conveniences we all take for granted. Reliable transportation for one. It is unlikely that Lavinia Goodell’s parents ever owned a horse. They walked to nearby destinations and took the train or a stagecoach when travelling farther afield.

From 1865 until 1870, Lavinia’s parents lived with Mrs. Goodell’s sister’s family in Lebanon, Connecticut. Lavinia’s uncle P.G. (Peleg George) Thomas was a farmer, and he had horses, a carriage, and a sleigh.

P.G. Thomas, Lavinia Goodell’s uncle

One day in early February 1866, Uncle George Thomas set out  in his sleigh with his wife, Mary, daughter Sarah Thomas, and Lavinia’s mother Clarissa, intending to convey the ladies to a sewing society meeting. Unfortunately their plans went awry.

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