“She shall be worth ten thousand dollars to you, Brother Goodell.”

Attorney Alvan Stewart to William Goodell, 1842

One of the first lawyers Lavinia Goodell ever met was Alvan Stewart.

Alvan Stewart, Esq.

Born in 1790 in New York State, Stewart had the reputation of a brilliant lawyer. Alvan Stewart moved to Utica in 1832, and the Goodell family was living in Utica at the time of Lavinia’s birth in 1839. In addition to his law practice, Stewart was active in the anti-slavery and temperance movements, as was William Goodell.

In 1842, when Lavinia was three years old, Stewart was a candidate for New York governor on the Liberty party ticket. According to Lavinia’s sister, Maria Goodell Frost, who was a teenager at the time, one evening Mrs. Goodell announced that Stewart would be paying them a visit. William Goodell said he was “very glad he was coming” as he “wished to speak with him on some points of law.”

Little Lavinia, who by all accounts was a rather difficult child, allowed herself to be washed and dressed in a dignified way so as to be ready to meet the distinguished guest.

Lavinia was apparently quite impressed with the visitor, and he with her. According to Maria:

His presence inspired her at once with awe. He was the largest and most remarkable specimen of humanity she had ever seen; towering above her father in height. He did not disdain girl babies, consign them to oblivion, or even put them in the poet’s corner…. Striding up to Lavinia, he put both of his large palms upon her head, … that the blessing to fall might descend equally and evenly upon each mental faculty, causing no doubt that equilibrium or balance of power, which in after years, so much distinguished her. With prophetic instinct, that truly great man, discerned the coming woman.

As Stewart peered into Lavinia’s blue eyes, he pronounced his benediction, “She shall be worth ten thousand dollars to you, Brother Goodell.”

From Maria Goodell Frost’s unpublished biography of Lavinia Goodell

Maria Frost’s biography details the account of a second meeting between Stewart and little Lavinia that centered around a more personal subject.  According to Maria, “Weaning was out of the question [for Lavinia], and after the usual methods were found unavailing, the [family] gave up in despair. There was no way of weaning this resolute determined child…. The only resource seemed to be in patient waiting.”

Around this time, Alvan Stewart paid the family another visit and asked, “Brother Goodell, is that girl weaned yet?” Lavinia’s father replied, “What ought to be done, can be done” and “such business depended on the mother,” and then tried to change the subject. Before Stewart took his leave, he announced, “If that girl isn’t weaned, next time I come along, I shall have the town council take it up.” Lavinia apparently overheard the proclamation and negotiated a resolution acceptable to all. Maria reported:

After a little parley, a debate on a small scale, commensurate with her knowledge of language, she struck a bargain with her father, that in consideration of a picture book, she would yield to his requisitions. Thus, with the help of an eminent lawyer and under penalty of public exposure, this “terrible enfant” abandoned the maternal fountain, submitting to graham bread and cambric tea, and looking for her reward in the literary researches of “Mother Goose Melodies,” “John Gilpin,” “The Babes in the Woods,” “The House That Jack Built,” etc.

Alvan Stewart did not win the 1842 gubernatorial race, nor the 1844 race when he was again the Liberty party’s candidate. When he died in 1849, the Buffalo Commercial newspaper eulogized him:

Mr. Stewart was a lawyer of considerable ability and success. His peculiar mode of reasoning, his odd yet forcible illustrations, his command of language, and more than all his singular humor, gave him great influence with juries. As a temperance orator he was well known throughout the State.

He had a rare humor, and his peculiar countenance and tone of voice heightened its effect. He will long be remembered by all who have ever known him.

Alvan Stewart would no doubt have been very proud of the fact that in 1874, thirty-two years after bestowing his blessing on the child and proclaiming that she would be worth ten thousand dollars to her father, Lavinia Goodell followed him into the legal profession when she became Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer.

Sources consulted: Life of Lavinia Goodell,  unpublished manuscript by Maria Goodell Frost, housed in the Berea College special Collections and Archives, Berea Kentucky; Buffalo Commercial (May 5, 1849).

1 comment

Beverly Wright

Wonderful story and negotiation with children still goes on!!! My grandsons are an example

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