“I find I am getting quite a reputation as a good teacher.”

Lavinia Goodell, October 14, 1866

When the anti-slavery newspaper, The Principia, ceased publication after the end of the Civil War, Lavinia Goodell was out of a job. In September 1865 she began a new career as a teacher in a home located at 26 South 10th Street, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  Lavinia’s new employer was a wealthy merchant. Lavinia described her new position to her sister:

I have just formed an engagement to teach in a family… at a salary of $300 including boards & washing…. I answered an advertisement, and the advertiser turned out … to be an old acquaintance…. Mr. Lyon…. There are two little girls, 10 and 10, and a boy 8. The plan is to have a small house school having nine children outside of the family, making the whole number twelve. This I think I shall like. Mr. and Mrs. Lyon seem like very pleasant people and I think I shall enjoy living there. They tell me I shall be just like one of the family,… Mr. L. … received 150 answers to his advertisement, but gave me the preference.

At the end of her first quarter, Lavinia invited the children’s parents to witness the students’ examination.  She was pleased with the results:

I had worked hard for two weeks beforehand to have the children do well, which I am happy to say they did. It passed off very pleasantly, and Mr. Lyon made some remarks at the close expressing great gratification at the progress the children had made, praising the teacher, and saying all sorts of agreeable things about me. So I commence this new quarter in good spirits.

During the second semester Lavinia experienced frustrations with the teaching life:

School duties are hard sometimes. Doesn’t it require infinite patience to teach! You think I have patience, but it doesn’t seem to me sometimes as if I had a particle. The truth is my scholars are not governed at home, and it is as much as any one’s life is worth to make them mind in school. They are just petted and spoiled, and indulged at home so excessively that school duties come hard to them. They are mostly the children of wealthy people…. [T]heir parents have very little government over them and I have to manage them the best way I can. Sometimes I get discouraged, and think my pupils are not making as much progress as I wish but on the whole, considering the circumstances, I do think I have succeeded in getting considerable into their brains, notwithstanding their efforts to the contrary. Two or three of them are pretty good, and sometimes they are all good and when they are I love to teach them, but when they get into tantrums I am in despair.

By the end of the first school year, Lavinia had settled into a comfortable routine in the Lyon household. She wrote to Maria:

My school is easier this last term, as some of my “hardest” cases have gone to the country. I have only seven left – all pretty good, so I have nice times…. You ask if I have engaged for another year. There has been no definite engagement, but I expect to remain. Mr. Lyon’s people have always talked as if they considered my teaching in their family a permanent arrangement, and I am pretty well suited, so have no reason for changing – unless indeed I should enter into an engagement of a different nature, of which there is no prospect at present.

Lavinia’s second year of teaching was a happy one. In October 1866 she wrote to her sister:

I have 12 scholars now, and prospect of 3 or 4 more, so everything looks promising…. I find I am getting quite a reputation as a good teacher. The children like me better than any one else because they say I make them learn. I have a very pleasant little school and think I shall enjoy the winter. Mr. Lyon’s people are as kind and pleasant as ever and on the whole I don’t know as I could be any happier anywhere else.

And in December 1866, Lavinia reported:

Well, my first quarter is over. It closed with an examination, the day before Thanksgiving. The children did well. I have 15 this quarter, so you see I am very successful. They seem to take an interest in their studies and to like their teacher; and I like teaching better than I did last year…. I have introduced some gymnastic exercises into the school…. I have two very smart little boys; one only seven, who reads fluently in the third reader, spells in the highest class, studies Geography and does quite hard sums in long division. He never misses a lesson. Another, a little younger who came to me a year ago, not knowing his letters or the figures, and now reads in the 3rd reader and does multiplication sums. So you see my scholars make progress.

Lavinia’s future as a teacher looked bright, but as it turned out, there were storm clouds on the horizon. NK

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letters to Maria Frost (September 7, 1865, September 29, 1865, November 28, 185, March 1, 186, June 5, 1866, October 14, 1866, December 8, 1866).

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