“Do your part in the world’s work.”

“Do your part in the world’s work.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 1861

Lavinia Goodell had a strong work ethic and was rarely idle. In 1853, at age fourteen, she was already helping her father publish and distribute an anti-slavery publication and was very proud to report to her sister that after deducting the cost of ferry and stage expenses she had cleared over $7.00 for sixteen days of work and felt quite rich.

In 1861, Lavinia was twenty-two years old and was assisting her father in publishing the Principia, another anti-slavery paper.

In the December 7, 1861 issue she wrote a short piece titled “Labor the Duty of All,” which chided everyone “with stout bodies and active brains,” whether rich or poor, to put their talents to use. She said, “You owe that world your vigorous limbs and active muscles, your thinking brain, and beating heart, and if you withhold them, you are guilty!”

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“Frémont is honoring our metropolis with quite a stay.”

“Frémont is honoring our metropolis with quite a stay.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 21, 1861

During the years Lavinia Goodell lived in New York, she took advantage of the city’s cultural events and met many leading figures of the day. In late 1861, during the early months of the Civil War, she met General John C. Frémont.

General John C. Frémont, c. 1862

Frémont was born in Georgia in 1813. In the 1840s he led a series of expeditions intended to survey the far west. In 1856, the newly formed Republican party chose him, an outspoken abolitionist, as their first presidential candidate. He lost the election to Democratic candidate James Buchanan.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Frémont was commissioned a Major General, and President Lincoln gave him command of the Department of the West. In late August 1861, Frémont proclaimed martial law in Missouri, arrested known secessionists, suspended newspapers charged with disloyalty, and announced the emancipation of the slaves of individuals who took action against the Union.

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“We women are all radicals.”

“We women are all radicals.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 1860

The articles that Lavinia Goodell contributed to her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia, have been discussed in some of our earlier posts. (Read more here.) The February 25, 1860 issue of the paper contained an article she authored (although it was attributed to “Housekeeper”) titled “Meditations on Sweeping a Room.”

Twenty-year-old Lavinia’s piece was superficially about cleaning a room but, at a deeper level, it revealed that even at a young age she firmly believed women were every bit as capable as men – and were better suited to handle some tasks than their male counterparts. It also showed that she understood that when trying to accomplish something big (such as gaining more rights for women) it was better to implement small, incremental changes rather than trying to transform the world overnight.

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“I am in no haste to marry.”

“I am in no haste to marry.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 14, 1864

While the majority of nineteenth century women married, Lavinia Goodell remained single and, by all accounts, her lack of a husband never bothered her. (Her sister, on the other hand, worried that Lavinia would not be able to support herself and hoped she would find a suitable spouse. Read more here.) The many articles Lavinia wrote for the Principia, her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, often poked fun at traditional notions of how women should behave. In an 1862 article titled, “Wanted: A Match – Summary of a Nice Wife,” Lavinia responded to a piece that had appeared in another publication which called on women to be in communion with their husbands; believe in the virtue of glossy hair and well-fitting gowns; speak low and not speak much; never scold and rarely argue, and adjust with a smile. Lavinia’s humorous but rather biting retort suggested that the man who wanted to mate with such a creature should possess a gigantic intellect, be a good provider, and never give her reason to scold or argue. She ended the piece by saying, “Such a man we may have dreamed of, but never have seen.”

From the November 20, 1862 Principia. Lavinia wrote a response to a piece that had appeared in the Exchange.

Read Lavinia’s entire piece here.

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“Miss Goodell is a person of rather a singular character.”

“Miss Goodell is a person of rather a singular character.”

Written by a friend of Lavinia Goodell, May 9, 1866

When she died in 1880, Lavinia Goodell left behind hundreds of letters, multiple diaries, and many published articles which provide insight into her character and personality, but how did the people closest to her view her? Fortunately the William Goodell Family Papers in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky provide firsthand descriptions of Lavinia as a young woman. Maria Goodell Frost wrote a lengthy unpublished biography of her sister.

Maria Goodell Frost

While highly complimentary of its subject, to be frank, parts of that work come across as a bit stilted and hard to read. But the Goodell Family Papers also contain a brief three page biography in which Maria succinctly summed up her sister’s character:

Lavinia inherited the logical traits of her father and the keen sprightly wit and quick perceptions of the Cadys. This combination fitted her by nature for her chosen profession of law, in which she distinguished herself. The friends of William Goodell loudly lamented that Lavinia was not a boy that she might succeed her father as a philanthropist. She was often told that she ought to have been a boy, which obligation exceedingly amused her, and she failed to perceive why being a girl she could not also be a philanthropist and do some good in the world. 

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“I have bought a new dress for summer.”

“I have bought a new dress for summer.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 24, 1871

Although Lavinia Goodell had no illusions that she was a beauty – in fact, she frequently commented that she was “plain” and many of her short stories feature ordinary looking women with uncommon intelligence – she enjoyed dressing well and kept up with current fashion trends. For most of her life money was in short supply and she sewed her own garments – after determining where the fabric could be procured for the best price. But while she was employed at Harper’s Bazar, she had enough discretionary income to splurge on new clothes. In April 1871, she made an extravagant purchase from Stewart’s dry goods store.

NEW YORK: STEWART’S, 1862. The ‘Iron Palace,’ A.T. Stewart & Company’s department store on Broadway and Ninth Street, New York. Line engraving, c1862.

Irish entrepreneur A.T. Stewart had opened his first store in 1846 at Broadway and Chambers Streets in New York. It was so ostentatious that it was called the Marble Palace. In 1863 Stewart opened what was dubbed the Iron Palace at Broadway between Ninth and Tenth Streets. It was there that Lavinia made her purchase.

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“The Brooklyn sanitary fair was a magnificent affair.”

“The Brooklyn sanitary fair was a magnificent affair.”

Lavinia Goodell, March 10, 1864

In 1864, Lavinia Goodell was living in Brooklyn with her parents and working with her father in editing the Principia anti-slavery newspaper. In her spare time, Lavinia enjoyed taking in cultural events and expositions. In March of 1864, along with thousands of other people, she visited the Brooklyn sanitary fair.

During the Civil War, sanitary fairs were held to raise money for the war effort in major cities in the Northeast. (Read more about them here.) The fairs combined entertainment, education, and philanthropy. Although the United States Sanitary Commission was headed by men, most of its work was accomplished by thousands of women volunteers. In Brooklyn, the hugely successful sanitary fair raised $400,000, well above the projected $100,000. The money was used for clothing, food, medical supplies, and other provisions for the Union Army.

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“Mind proudly asserts its superiority over matter.”

“Mind proudly asserts its superiority over matter.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 1859

Lavinia Goodell’s contributions to the Principia, her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, have been discussed in prior posts. (Click here and here to learn more.) None of Lavinia’s pieces bear her full name. We first learned that Lavinia wrote articles for the Principia when we reviewed an unpublished biography written by Elisabeth S. Peck, a long time history teacher at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, where the William Goodell family papers are housed. Ms. Peck mentioned the titles of some of Lavinia’s Principia pieces, and that set us on the path of trying to uncover as many as we can. (The photo of the woman we call the “faux Lavinia” made its way to Berea because of Ms. Peck. Read more about that here.)

One of Lavinia’s early contributions to the Principia appeared in the December 31, 1859 issue. The story, written when Lavinia was twenty years old,  is titled “Meditation on Darning a Rent in My Dress,” and is signed “Housekeeper.” A digital version of the Principia is available in a massive database called Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive, published by Gale Publishing Company. Lest there be any doubt that Lavinia Goodell actually wrote ”Meditation,” the Principia issue scanned by Gale has “Lavinia Goodell” written at the beginning of  the piece in what looks like it could be Lavinia’s hand.

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