“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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Posted by admin in Teaching years, 0 comments

“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

“We are in possession of our share of the Estate of your late uncle, Isaac H. Cady”

“We are in possession of our share of the Estate of your late uncle, Isaac H. Cady”

William Goodell, August 7, 1869

Lavinia Goodell’s mother’s only brother, Isaac Cady, was a prosperous bookseller and publisher in Providence, Rhode Island.

Isaac H. Cady

In 1840, Lavinia’s mother, Clarissa, reported to her father, Josiah Cady, that the family had seen Isaac’s advertisement in the newspaper and that Lavinia’s fourteen-year-old sister Maria said she should like to step into his bookstore. Lavinia’s mother said, “I told her Uncle would not like to have her handle his books.”

Isaac Cady calendar from 1840

For a number of years, beginning in 1847, Isaac Cady had a business in New York City, in partnership with Daniel Burgess. Cady & Burgess published a number of textbooks written by Roswell C. Smith, another of Lavinia’s uncles and the father of Carrie Ellsworth, Lavinia’s cousin who died unexpectedly in 1866.

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“I am glad Aunt Mira is so kind as to board you.”

“I am glad Aunt Mira is so kind as to board you.”

Clarissa Goodell to Lavinia Goodell, September 21, 1867

Mira Hill was one of the many women who played an important role in Lavinia Goodell’s life.

Mira Hill, Lavinia Goodell’s great aunt

Mira was Lavinia’s great aunt, the half sister of her maternal grandfather, Josiah Cady. Mira married John Wheeler Hill, a policeman, and for many years the couple lived in the Green Point section of Brooklyn. In the 1860s, after Lavinia’s parents moved to Lebanon, Connecticut, Lavinia lived with the Hills for long stretches on two occasions and wrote and received many letters there.

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“Has Willie enlisted yet?”

“Has Willie enlisted yet?”

Lavinia Goodell, August 12, 1862

Lavinia Goodell did not have children, but she clearly doted on her four nephews and had a special relationship with the eldest, William Goodell Frost. Named after his maternal grandfather, the family affectionately called him Willie.

Willie was born in 1854, when Lavinia was fifteen. When he was four years old, his mother wrote to Lavinia, “Willie says, ‘I wonder if Aunt Vinny curls her hair yet. How pretty it must look. I do want to see her.'”

William Goodell Frost
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“I know Lavinia can never earn a steady living.”

“I know Lavinia can never earn a steady living.”

Maria Frost, April 10, 1865

It is doubtful that Lavinia Goodell ever enjoyed extended periods of good health. She was a sickly infant and youngster, and as an adult she was often ill. (During the years she practiced law, in addition to physical ailments, she suffered from frequent bouts of severe depression. That topic will be covered in a future post.) In spite of her many maladies,  Lavinia rarely complained, and she never let her poor health stand in the way of accomplishing whatever she set out to do.

Lavinia Goodell as a teenager

Although Lavinia did not waste time worrying about herself and maintained a hectic schedule until the final months of her life, her mother and sister spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about her and trying to dissuade her from being so active.

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“Hattie grows lovelier every day.”

“Hattie grows lovelier every day.”

Maria Frost, December 1, 1862.

The child mortality rate was high in the mid-1800s, with 34% of children born in 1860 not living to see their fifth birthday. The Goodell family was not spared.  Lavinia Goodell’s sister and brother-in-law lost two young children.

Maria and Lewis Frost already had one son when, on January 20, 1858, Lewis Frost wrote to his in-laws reporting that Maria had just given birth to a fine, healthy eight pound boy in Arcade, New York, which is near Buffalo. Lewis said, “I am very glad the child is a boy though I did not expect it. The name is not ready yet. If he lives a few weeks, we shall try to find a name.” Sadly, the infant remained unnamed. On February 19, 1858, Lewis wrote, “Our baby is just leaving us. We all feel sure that it cannot survive the day out…. The babe we shall take to Riga for burial…. Maria says she is not sorry she had the child. Neither am I.”

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Posted by admin in Principia years, 3 comments

“Necessity compels many women to go into the world of business”

“Necessity compels many women to go into the world of business”

Lavinia Goodell, November 1867

Lavinia Goodell was a voracious reader and subscribed to many publications, particularly those with a connection to the Congregational Church and those advancing the cause of women’s rights. One of the periodicals she read regularly was the Advance, a weekly publication of the Congregational Church that was headquartered in Chicago and put out its first issue in September 1867.

It was not long before Lavinia found cause to send a letter to the magazine. (Lavinia was not the first member of her family to be published in the Advance. Her father beat her to the punch by having his article “Christ for all time” published in the September 19, 1867 issue.)

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Posted by admin in Harper's Bazar years, 0 comments