“Have a character! Mean something.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 21, 1860

In the second chapter of her series-  published the Principia – imparting advice on how young men could win a wife (read about the first chapter here), twenty year old Lavinia Goodell continued her theme that if a young man expected to attract a prospective spouse of high character, he would need to convince the young woman that he was worthy of her. She began:

Lavinia continued, “Do you dream of a gentle, pure, thoughtful maiden, she dreams of a strong, noble, whole-souled man. Be a man, then, if you would win a woman. Have some manliness, and act it out.”

Lavinia offered some concrete suggestions for young men to follow: First, “Have a character! Mean something! Do not be afraid to wait upon old Aunt Huldah from church, on a slippery day, because ‘the fellows’ might tease you about it.” Second, “Never act a part, to win the regard of a young lady…. The girls may like you well enough to go with, but not one of them would think of marrying you.” Next, “Never flatter. If a young lady’s affection can be gained by an appeal to her vanity, it is a poor acquisition; if not, she will conclude, and justly, that you hold her at entirely too low an estimate.”

Lavinia also cautioned:

Show a little nobility of nature. Think of something besides self. Devote your services, not always to those you like best, but to those you need them most. Don’t go off to the lecture with Clara, and leave aunt Mary and cousin Nell dying to go, and no one to take them! Above all, … never go to anything alone – never! If you do, get into the darkest corner, and cover up your face!

She went on:

Be polite to the plain and neglected ones. I know you are palpitating to go home with Clara – and she does look bewitching in that snug little, blue hood – but don’t you do it! She will be provided for. Turn, in all gentlemanliness and deference, to that poor, plain, bashful Mary A. – Clara will love you all the better for your nobleness, if she is capable of appreciating it; if she isn’t, the quicker you sound her depth the better.

Lavinia said, “To sum up the whole, you must have something to you – and just that something which your ideal of a woman will admire and love.”

To bashful young men, she said:

In the first place, you are very superior to many of your sex who dash right in, among a circle of laughing girls, and do execution, while you are trembling and blushing, and your tongue cleaving to the roof of your mouth. Do not be afraid! There is something in you! Let it out and the girls will be surprised and delighted; act your confidence, nothing fearing, and they will like you.

She concluded:

Read the entire piece here.

Sources consulted: “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife, Chapter II – Which Treateth of Manliness,” written by Lavinia Goodell and published in the Principia on April 21, 1860.



I loved this piece. So sage for age 20. And perhaps an insight into the standards that kept her single.

This entire series of articles is very well written. There is little doubt Lavinia was expressing her personal views.

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