“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 followed the custom of the City by calling on several acquaintances.”

“I followed the custom of the City by calling on several acquaintances.”

William Goodell, January 5, 1827

During the nineteenth century, it was customary to make social calls on New Year’s Day. While ladies remained at home to receive guests, gentlemen made the rounds of households in their circle.

Lavinia Goodell’s family maintained this tradition throughout her lifetime. Her diary entry for January 1, 1873 reported, “Father made calls” while she and her mother “prepared for calls but received only one.”

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“Aunt Lois feels Carrie’s death more and more every day.”

“Aunt Lois feels Carrie’s death more and more every day.”

Clarissa Goodell, September 6, 1866

Like most families in the nineteenth century, the Goodells experienced the premature deaths of family members, including Lavinia’s two year old niece Harriet Frost, an unnamed infant nephew,  and her twenty-three year old cousin Amanda Goodell. In 1866, Lavinia lost another cousin, thirty-seven year old Caroline Smith Ellsworth.

Caroline Smith Ellsworth

Carrie was born in 1829, the only child of Lavinia’s mother’s sister, Lois Cady, and her husband, Roswell Smith, the author of textbooks on grammar, geography, and arithmetic. In 1854, Carrie married Oliver Chaffee Ellsworth, a Boston publisher whose paternal grandfather was Oliver Ellsworth, the third Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and whose maternal grandfather was Noah Webster. The couple had one son, William Webster Ellsworth, born in 1855. Willie Ellsworth was the same age as, and a frequent correspondent of, Lavinia’s eldest nephew, William Goodell Frost.

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“Poor Cleaveland is in deep affliction.”

“Poor Cleaveland is in deep affliction.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 22, 1869

In her 1879 will, Lavinia Goodell named her uncle, Josiah Cleaveland Cady as trustee.

Cleaveland, (sometimes spelled Cleveland) as he was called, was born in 1837, the son of Lavinia’s mother’s father, Deacon Josiah Cady, and his second wife, Lydia. Cleaveland was more than thirty years Clarissa Goodell’s junior and was only two years older than Lavinia. The Cadys lived in Providence, Rhode Island, but there was always concern about disease in cities, so after the birth Lydia and the baby spent some time in the country. They returned to Providence when Cleaveland was seven months old. Josiah reported, “We are as well now as we have been perhaps for a year past but we have no promise of tomorrow.”

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“My only regret was that we didn’t take her there sooner.”

“My only regret was that we didn’t take her there sooner.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 19, 1878

In early July 1877, Lavinia Goodell committed her mother to the Wisconsin State Hospital for the Insane. The institution, now known as Mendota Mental Health Institute, is located on Lake Mendota, on the north side of Madison.

Lavinia’s July 3, 1877 diary entry read, “Went up to asylum and after various tribulations took leave of mother and started homeward.”

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“A dreadful time with Mother”

“A dreadful time with Mother”

Lavinia Goodell, January 18, 1877

Lavinia Goodell’s mother’s mental health steadily declined during 1876. Lavinia’s cousin, Sarah Thomas, travelled to Janesville in late December to help Lavinia care for Clarissa.

Clarissa Goodell
Clarissa Goodell

Sarah had no sooner arrived than Clarissa’s condition worsened. Lavinia’s diary entries for January 1877 were a litany of depressing news: “A terrible time with mother.” “A bad time with mother again.” “Sarah reported on hard day with mother. I am in despair about her. Father nervous. Trouble all around.”

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“Mother gets worse and worse”

“Mother gets worse and worse”

Lavinia Goodell, November 4, 1876

Lavinia Goodell was away from Janesville for much of the summer of 1876. She left on June 3 and didn’t return until August 4. She was a delegate and speaker at the International Temperance Conference in Philadelphia and she and her cousin, Sarah Thomas, attended the Centennial International Exhibition in that city. Lavinia’s certificate of admission to the Rock County bar and her briefs arguing for her admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court were on display. (Learn more about Lavinia’s experiences here.) It was also during this summer that Lavinia learned she was seriously ill.

By late September 1876, in addition to coping with her law practice and her own illness Lavinia was faced with the harsh reality that her mother’s mental health was rapidly deteriorating. (Read more about Clarissa Goodell here.)

Photp of Clarissa Goodell, mother of Lavinia Goodell, wisconsin's 1st woman lawyer.
Clarissa Goodell
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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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