“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.

Lavinia first moved in with the Hills after her two years of teaching in a Brooklyn merchant’s home ended abruptly. (Read more about that here and here.) Lavinia’s mother, Clarissa Goodell, was relieved that her daughter landed in a safe place:

I am glad Aunt Mira is so kind as to board you until you can get accommodated at a reasonable price in a respectable family near your business. I presume you make her as little trouble as anyone would.

And a bit later Clarissa wrote:

I am thankful every time I hear from you, to Aunt Mira for her kind motherly care for you…. It is no small consolation to feel that you are with long tried relations. Mira is aware that you have always been very frail and will, I trust, prevail on you to stay at home when she sees you are not able to go to the office.

Lavinia appreciated her relatives’ hospitality, saying, “I have a very pleasant home at Uncle Hill’s. They are always kind to me as if I were their own daughter, and I appreciate their warmth and geniality very much.” Lavinia apparently encouraged her aunt to speak her mind and not be afraid to voice her true feelings to her husband. She wrote to her parents:

Tell Maria to talk up strongly the way she don’t want and she will be sure to get what she does. Aunt Mira is trying it on Uncle Hill, by my advice, and it works like a charm.

In her letters, Lavinia would often set the scene by describing her surroundings:

It is 6:20 p.m. & I am writing at the table which is set for supper and waiting for Mr. Hill’s arrival from the station. Aunt Mira sitting in front of the fire toasting bread. Oysters set back on the stove. I impatient to eat them.


Sitting at the dining room table this Sabbath evening, with folio and ink before me. Uncle Hill by the side of the table, reading; Aunt Mira in the big rocking chair retiring.

It seems that the only drawback of living with the Hills was that they had pets in the house, including a cat named Beauty, on which Aunt Mira doted. (Lavinia reported that when a newly married couple visited the Hills, “Aunt Mira was particularly gratified at the notice the bride took of Beauty.”)  But according to Lavinia’s mother:

Lavinia likes Mira & Mr. Hill but is not as fond of the animals as they want her to be. Doesn’t like to get white hairs all over her dresses holding dogs and cats.

In 1869, Lavinia rented a room from a German family in Manhattan to practice her German and be closer to her job at Harper’s Bazar. The fact that the German family had no pets was an added bonus. According to Lavinia’s mother:

I am glad Lavinia has got suited in a boarding place. She will find good living, and they are all young together and have no cats or dogs and that will relieve Lavinia and she can keep her clothes clean.

By late 1870, Lavinia had moved back to the Hills’ home and stayed there until she moved to Janesville in the fall of 1871. The pets were still there, and Beauty had given birth to a kitten. Lavinia must have complained about the felines to her cousin Sarah Thomas because Sarah replied:

Tell Aunt Mira you have done your duty nobly regarding Beauty’s wonderful baby. I expect Uncle Hill’s dog would “chaw” it up at one mouthful, then wouldn’t Aunt Mira be sorry she had defended him for stealing my mince pie meat.

Lavinia had a good income at Harper’s and took pride in saving her money. At some point the Hills evidently asked her for a loan. Lavinia’s mother discouraged it, saying:

We wrote Lavinia that she must look out about lending money. It would be very hard to lose her hard earnings. Mr. Hill would mean to pay, but we never know how things would come out if property had to be sold at the decease of the head of the family. They have been very kind. It would be hard to refuse to lend to them.

In spite of her mother’s concern, Lavinia did lend the Hills some money, and the business transaction ended amiably. The principal and interest, about $125, was paid in full before Lavinia moved to Janesville, much to Lavinia’s relief. She wrote her parents, “It was very considerate of them to propose [paying me what they owed me], and it will be very convenient for us. I was dreading to ask them for it.”

Sources consulted: Clarissa Goodell’s letters to Lavinia Goodell (September 21, 1867; October 1867); Clarissa Goodell’s letters to Maria Frost (February 28, 1868; October 29, 1868); Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (October 20, 1867); Lavinia Goodell’s letters to William and Clarissa Goodell (November 18, 1867; March 5, 1871; March 20, 1871; April 9, 1871; June 25, 1871); Sarah Thomas’s letter to Lavinia Goodell (February 24, 1871); Photograph of Mira Hill courtesy of Beverly Wright.

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