“I am in no haste to marry.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 14, 1864

While the majority of nineteenth century women married, Lavinia Goodell remained single and, by all accounts, her lack of a husband never bothered her. (Her sister, on the other hand, worried that Lavinia would not be able to support herself and hoped she would find a suitable spouse. Read more here.) The many articles Lavinia wrote for the Principia, her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, often poked fun at traditional notions of how women should behave. In an 1862 article titled, “Wanted: A Match – Summary of a Nice Wife,” Lavinia responded to a piece that had appeared in another publication which called on women to be in communion with their husbands; believe in the virtue of glossy hair and well-fitting gowns; speak low and not speak much; never scold and rarely argue, and adjust with a smile. Lavinia’s humorous but rather biting retort suggested that the man who wanted to mate with such a creature should possess a gigantic intellect, be a good provider, and never give her reason to scold or argue. She ended the piece by saying, “Such a man we may have dreamed of, but never have seen.”

From the November 20, 1862 Principia. Lavinia wrote a response to a piece that had appeared in the Exchange.

Read Lavinia’s entire piece here.

Lavinia’s letters make clear that while she would be open to a marriage with the right partner, she had very high standards and was not willing to settle for anything less, and the lack of a spouse did not mean her life was incomplete. In 1864, at age twenty-five, she wrote to her sister:

I think I am proving by my course that I am in no haste to marry. I hope I shall marry my superior, if I ever marry. I am waiting for him. Perhaps it is egotistic of me, but I confess I do feel superior to most of the young men with whom I have, thus far, formed acquaintances. Whether I have not had good advantages or whether the young people of the other sex are really inferior to those of my own I cannot determine. Certain it is that not one of them makes the slightest impression on my heart. I think I am capable of loving, if the right one should come, but since he doesn’t I am quite contented and happy as I am. I have plenty of reading, business, a pleasant home, and a few very good friends, and look forward with pleasant anticipation into the future. Why shouldn’t I be happy? 

Lavinia never officially wrote off the possibility of marriage. When she was twenty-eight, she attended a wedding in Lebanon, Connecticut and joked to her sister that the only marriageable young gentleman present devoted himself to Lavinia and her cousin Sarah Thomas, which caused the family to speculate about his intentions. 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?” The following year, a much older Brooklyn doctor showed serious romantic interest in Lavinia, which caused her to report, “Suppose I could become ‘Mrs. M.D.’ if I chose. Don’t choose.” (Read more here.)

Throughout her life, Lavinia championed equality for women, whether married or not, including the right to pursue all professions and an entitlement to marital property rights and child support. In an article titled “Subjection of Women” that appeared in the December 30, 1876 issue of the Woman’s Journal, Lavinia wrote:

It is cruel mockery to tell Woman she is “queen of the home,” when the husband still claims to be absolute monarch over every department wherein she labors. She is a queen without a crown, without a scepter, without a subject, and without a revenue. It is better to be a beggar than to be such a queen.

After she became a lawyer, Lavinia drafted legislation – and had a fellow Janesville lawyer who was also a member of the state assembly introduce it – that would provide for the support of married women and their minor children, and give mothers custody of their minor children in some in the event of divorce. The bill also gave women with profligate husbands financial support. It does not appear that the bill passed. Read more about Lavinia’s views on women’s rights here.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letters to Maria Frost (February 14, 1864; July 11, 1867); “Subjection of Woman,” written by Lavinia Goodell and published in the Woman’s Journal, Vol. 7, No. 53, 12/30/76, seq. 430, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Harvard University; “Wanted: A Match – Summary of a Nice Wife,” written by Lavinia Goodell and published in the November 20, 1862 issue of The Principia.  


Leave a Reply