“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.

Lavinia wrote:

I know what two rosy cheeked, blue-eyed children are, to an “auntie’s heart! Ah! Would that you might see them, dear reader, as they play around the door-steps of the “Red parsonage!” The elder one, perchance, is all the dignity of regimentals, “marching” up and down the plank walks, or laying plans for the capture of Jeff. Davis and even the “wee toddling, tottering” one picking up a stick and saying “bang!” For – yes – the sound of war has reached even our green retreat, and the clover-scented air has resounded with its trumpet note.

In a letter written a few days before the Principia issue containing the story appeared, Maria and Lavinia received a letter from their parents saying that “In the Country” was in the hands of the printer. Lavinia’s mother was very pleased with the story:

Lavinia’s piece for the paper is very descriptive, especially that part about the blue eyed boys around the door steps of the red parsonage. The word bang! is continually sounding in my ears. That is too cunning for anything.

Read the full story here.

Some years later Lavinia must have commented to her mother that perhaps she might enjoy taking up permanent residence in the country. Clarissa Goodell was not so sure, saying, “You enjoy visiting in the country but I do not believe you would like to settle down for life in the country unless you had a very congenial husband.”

In 1867, just before Lavinia began working at Harper’s Bazar, she attended a wedding in Lebanon, Connecticut and reported to her sister that “the only marriageable young gentleman” in attendance had devoted himself to Lavinia and her cousin Sarah Thomas. Lavinia wrote, “Aunt Mary thinks it would be very nice to have me for a neighbor. Don’t you think I would make an excellent farmer’s wife?” There is no indication that this comment was anything other than a joke. Lavinia continued to live in the city and work at Harper’s Bazar until the fall of 1871 when she made the move to Janesville to help her aging parents.

Sources consulted: Clarissa Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (July 17, 1861); Clarissa Goodell’s letter to Lavinia Goodell (March 10, 1866); Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (July 11, 1867); “In the Country” by Lavinia Goodell, published in the July 20, 1861 Principia.

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