“Miss Lily Peckham is now preparing herself for the ministry.”

Juniata Sentinel (Mifflintown, Pennsylvania), January 4, 1871

A previous post discussed Lily Peckham (1843-1871), who was active in the woman’s rights movement and who may or may not have briefly practiced law in Milwaukee.

Lily maintained a busy schedule in the last two years of her life. According to newspaper accounts, she attended and spoke at women’s rights conventions in Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, New York, and Providence, R.I. Reporters complimented her speeches but also commented on her appearance, with the Chicago Evening Post referring to her as “the beautiful and bewitching Milwaukee lawyeress,” and an Iowa newspaper touting her “lady-like appearance and manner and intellectual cast of features.”

Lily contributed to and was a Milwaukee agent for the Revolution, the official publication of the National Woman Suffrage Association formed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to secure a suffrage through a federal constitutional amendment.

The Revolution, Nov. 4, 1869

While Lily remained active in advocating for women’s rights, media coverage was not always favorable. In early 1870, a Charlotte, North Carolina paper snidely reported: “Miss Lilly Peckham stayed at home from the Woman’s Suffrage Convention at Washington to take care of a sick mother. Why can’t Congress make an appropriation to supply the rest of these silly women with sick mothers?”

In June 1870, Lily was invited to deliver the annual address before the college literary societies during commencement week at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. The local newspaper reported that she had a large and appreciative audience and that she spoke in favor of equal rights for women:

She said that a person’s worth consisted in its usefulness. A life of dependence was degrading; every woman should be able to earn her own living. She said there were many fields in which women were wanted. We needed them for lawyers, physicians and the gospel would certainly not be the less true for flowing from the lips of woman.

In 1870 and 1871, Lily also took part in conventions of the Free Religious Association (a freethought organization that opposed organized religion) in Indianapolis and Toledo. She contributed a number of articles to the Association’s magazine, “The Index,”  and worked in their offices in Toledo during the summer and fall of 1870. Her essays included “Does the church believe in God” and “The Methodist View of Women.” In July 1870 she spoke at an Association convention and advocated against teaching religion in public schools:

When in both Federal and State Constitutions the independence of church and state is so plainly declared as a fundamental principle of our Government, it is a glaring inconsistency to use the public or Government schools to teach any form of religion whatever. And this implies no disrespect to religion. It is simply declaring that in the body politic, as in the human body different organs have different functions,… the application of this principle to our schools would have long since been acknowledged but for the conservatism of the human intellect, which never allows of the full application of a new principle at once.

We do not know how or when Lavinia Goodell heard about Lily Peckham, but she may well have read about her in either the Revolution or the Woman’s Journal since we know Lavinia read both publications and was a frequent contributor to the latter. This short announcement in the August 5, 1871 Woman’s Journal may have caught Lavinia’s eye:

August 5, 1871 Woman’s Journal

In addition, the September 8, 1871 Janesville Gazette reported that “Miss Lillian Peckham, of Milwaukee is about to embrace the legal profession.” This notice appeared just before Lavinia moved from New York to Janesville, but her parents most likely saw it. It is curious that announcements of Lily’s undertaking the practice of law appeared in the second half of 1871 since other publications had reported in January 1871 that by that time she had changed professions. A Pennsylvania paper reported, “Miss Lily Peckham, of Milwaukee, who studied law just long enough to become shocked at the iniquity of the profession, is now preparing herself for the ministry.” At the end of July an Appleton paper reported that Lily had “taken ministerial charge of the Universalist church at Dubuque, Iowa.” Lily had plans to attend the Cambridge Divinity School in the fall, but two months later she was dead.

Lily Peckham died on October 10, 1871 in Milwaukee. She had fallen ill a few weeks earlier, and in a bizarre coincidence, she sought treatment at Dr. Hanson’s Turkish bath establishment, the same place where Lavinia Goodell was a patient a short time before she died in 1880. Early reports said that Lily had died from the prostration produced by a Turkish bath, but later accounts refuted that and said she died from the breaking of an abscess. The Index eulogized her:

Never have we known a mind quicker to apprehend and appreciate the value of great ideas; or a character more singularly brave and unselfish in advocating them. Her moral courage was that of a man, but tempered with all a woman’s sweetness. Had it not been for a certain irresolution or lack of persistency, which prevented the application of her fine powers continuously and exclusively to a single aim, she would have shown with conspicuous lustre among the famous women of her time. Her early death has cut off the bright future we notwithstanding hoped and expected for her; and the falling leaves of autumn, beautiful in their quick decay, fittingly symbolize the career of this faithful friend, this brilliant, lovely, and most noble woman. May her grave be strewn with flowers!

She is buried in her family’s plot in Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee.

Although we have no indication that Lavinia Goodell and Lily Peckham ever met, it seems likely that they would have gotten along since they seemed to be kindred spirits: two young women intent on forging productive and independent lives in a man’s world. To the extent Lily Peckham’s name comes up today, it is usually in connection with Lavinia’s story. Ten days after Lavinia passed her bar examination, the Woman’s Journal lauded her admission and added, “We learn, on reliable authority, that Miss Peckham applied, passed a fine examination, but was refused on account of her sex.” Again, there is no evidence this happened, but in the end it matters little whether Lily Peckham ever practiced law or sought to be admitted to the bar. The fact that she apparently spoke publicly of her intention to do so stiffened Lavinia Goodell’s determination to do the same. Sadly, both women died long before achieving their full promise.

Sources consulted: Chicago Evening Post (June 10, 1869); Buchanan County Bulletin (Independence, Iowa, August 4, 1871); The Index (July 30, 1870; August 6, 1870; May 27, 1871; October 28, 1871) Appleton Post (June 2, 1870; June 16, 1870); The Revolution (November 4, 1869); Woman’s Journal (August 5, 1871; October 21, 1871; June 27, 1874); Janesville Gazette (September 8, 1871); Juniata Sentinel (Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, January 4, 1871); Appleton Crescent (July 29, 1871); Washington Standard (Olympia, Washington November 25, 1871); Buffalo, New York Commercial (November 4, 1871); The Weekly News (Charlotte, North Carolina, February 8, 1870).

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