“Getting married is not the great object of life.”

Lavinia Goodell, May 1860

In the sixth and final chapter of her series (posts about the earlier chapters may be found here: part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five) titled “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife,” Lavinia Goodell offered one final piece of advice: men should not make finding a wife their primary life’s ambition.

From the May 26, 1860 Principia

After saying that she hoped gentlemen were taking the advice offered in her previous columns, Lavinia wrote:

I have an additional word of exhortation. . . .  [Y]ou mustn’t be all these good things merely for the sake of “winning a wife,” but for their own sake. Getting married is not the great object of life. . . . Everything is viewed through the lens of “matrimony.” A certain amount of effort and money is devoted to the business of wife-getting. . . . Would such a girl make a good wife? If not, it is no use wasting any time and money on her! The idea that people may associate for the purpose of enjoying each other’s society, as friends, for mutual improvement and happiness is unknown. . . . They experiment very carefully and economically, till they make a selection, and then draw their chosen one from the group and don’t care a whistle for everybody else in the world. . . . Now I hope you don’t entertain any such narrow views of life!

Lavinia continued:

Do you think women were created just for nothing else in the world than to help you comfortably along through life, to bring you in a little capital, perhaps, to start with, to feed you, and fix you, and work, and help you to accumulate and coax you up, and flatter your vanity; to belong to you wholly, and conform to all your notions? Do you seek a wife as a convenience? Is self your object? Do you go wife-hunting, among the girls? If you do you won’t succeed, and you don’t deserve to! You know no more about love than the mole, digging under ground, does about the laws which govern the motions of the heavenly bodies!

While Lavinia cautioned that matrimony should not be the chief object of life, she agreed that “it is a great event, the great event of life, to both man and woman,” and she said the habit of “treating it as a light, trivial affair, something to be laughed at, and joked about, . . . is decidedly out of taste.” She concluded:

The higher your aim in life, the more exalted your ideas of matrimony. If you live for self; if your object is to accumulate for yourself the material things of this earthly planet, you will want simply a quiet, unobtrusive, bread-and-buttery kind of a wife, who will be economical, and whose mind will never stray beyond the “sphere” of “home.” If you have a soul full of great ideas, noble aspirations, you cannot be satisfied with less than a companion – one to whom you can reveal your whole heart – who can understand and sympathize with you, fully.

Read the entire piece here.

Lavinia Goodell wrote this series of articles around the time of her twenty-first birthday. In offering humorous advice to young men, was she expressing her personal views of the qualities she would require in a life partner? Although we can’t know for certain, based on her other extensive writings, including her diaries and scores of letters, the answer is probably yes. Perhaps Lavinia never married because she never found someone with a soul full of great ideas and noble aspirations who could not be satisfied with someone who did not have the same attributes.

Sources consulted: “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife. Chapter VI – A Little Good Bye Chat,” written by Lavinia Goodell and published in the Principia May 25, 1860.

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