“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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“Wouldn’t it be dreadful to have a drunkard for a father?”

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful to have a drunkard for a father?”

“Susy’s Christmas” by Lavinia Goodell, published in the Principia January 1, 1863

Lavinia Goodell was an active participant in the temperance movement. In 1873 she helped form Janesville’s Ladies Temperance Union. In 1875, she ran for Janesville city attorney on the temperance ticket. (Although she was unsuccessful, she got 60 votes at a time when only men could cast ballots.)

Lavinia’s temperance advocacy began in her youth, and her short stories sometimes dealt with the evils of excessive drinking. The January 1, 1863 issue of the Principia, her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, contained a short story titled “Susy’s Christmas,” in which two privileged children ask their Aunt Kate for a Christmas day story and are rewarded with a tale about an unfortunate young girl named Susy.

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“Goodbye, City! Welcome, Country!”

“Goodbye, City! Welcome, Country!”

Lavinia Goodell, July 1861

Prior to moving to Janesville, Wisconsin in 1871, Lavinia Goodell had spent sixteen years living in Brooklyn and one year in Manhattan. Lavinia enjoyed the “society” of a big city. She liked to attend lectures, go to exhibitions, and visit friends. But she also enjoyed vacations out of the city, particularly when she had the opportunity to visit her sister, Maria Frost

Maria’s husband Lewis was a pastor. The Frosts tended to move every few years and resided in a variety of small towns. In 1861, they were living in Arcade, a village southeast of Buffalo with a population of about 630. Lavinia took a break from assisting her father with the publication of the Principia anti-slavery newspaper and spent two months with the Frosts that summer while Maria awaited the birth of her only daughter, Hattie

Lavinia continued to write pieces for the Principia while on vacation and found inspiration in her current surroundings. Her short story titled “In the Country,” which appeared in the July 20, 1861 issue of the Principia, described the home in which the Frosts lived (the family always referred to it as the Red Parsonage) and her young nephews, seven year old Willie, who dreamed of being a soldier, and two year old Lewis.

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“Don’t you wish you were an editor?”

“Don’t you wish you were an editor?”

Lavinia Goodell, June 1862

From 1859 until 1865, Lavinia  Goodell’s father was the editor of the anti-slavery newspaper the Principia, and Lavinia worked alongside him in the paper’s offices in lower Manhattan. She started out writing short pieces, then graduated to longer stories, and eventually served as a co-editor. None of her pieces bear her full name. Many are signed with her initials and some with pseudonyms. We have been able to identify approximately fifty of Lavinia’s Principia pieces, and there are no doubt more – perhaps many more – since a letter written by Lavinia’s sister Maria recently came to light in which Maria said, “I don’t feel at all ashamed to have your articles attributed to me.” Lavinia sometimes wrote articles from a male point of view and relished the anonymity. She told her sister, “But then people generally won’t know it’s me, you know, and I think it is a fruitful theme. Young ladies are lectured to quite enough, and it is time the ‘opposition’ got a little.”

In a lengthy piece titled “A Day in the Life of an Editor” that appeared in the June 5, 1862 Principia, Lavinia adopted the persona of  a male editor. Introducing her protagonist as “William Henry Hartley, a man of thirty-five years, and tolerably good looks,” she took her readers along on a frenzied, roller coaster ride of a day at the helm of a busy newsroom. (Read the full story here).

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“In the Matter of William and Sylvanus Lyon, Bankrupts.”

“In the Matter of William and Sylvanus Lyon, Bankrupts.”

New York Times, April 25, 1870

We launched this website two years ago with a post titled “A case of mistaken identity,” which explained how we had discovered that a photograph that people had believed to be Lavinia Goodell was not her at all. We commented that historical research is a lot like detective work. You must follow the facts wherever they lead, and if you find errors in the historical record, you must try to correct them. This post corrects and enhances the story we previously recounted about the two years Lavinia spent teaching in Brooklyn. (Read those accounts here and here.)

We believed that Lavinia’s employer was a prosperous merchant named Lynn who lived on South 10th Street in the Williamsburgh section of Brooklyn. But it is not always easy to decipher nineteenth century spelling, particularly of proper names, and after reviewing a box of recently discovered Goodell family letters, we now know that Lavinia’s employer’s name was Sylvanus Lyon.

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“The news of the great battle is very sad.”

“The news of the great battle is very sad.”

Clarissa Goodell, July 22, 1861

Lavinia Goodell and her family lived through the Civil War, and their correspondence gives us a bird’s eye view of those turbulent times.

The first major land battle of the war occurred on July 21, 1861 at Manassas, Virginia. It is now commonly referred to as the Battle of Bull’s Run. After fighting on the defensive for most of the day, the Confederates rallied and were able to break the Union right flank. The Confederate victory gave the South a surge of confidence and made the Northerners realize that the war would not be easily won.

New York Times, July 22, 1861

Lavinia’s father published and/or edited numerous newspapers throughout his life, and the Goodells were avid followers of the news and read multiple papers. After reading the first accounts of the battle, Lavinia’s mother wrote:

The news that came today of the great battle is very sad and I don’t feel like doing or saying anything. O, the poor mothers and sisters that are now in suspense as to the fate of their dear ones.

Clarissa Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost, July 22, 1861
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Posted by admin in Principia years, Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 2 comments