“Suppose I could become Mrs. ‘M.D.’ if I chose. Don’t choose.”

Lavinia Goodell, January 11, 1868

In the fall of 1867, Lavinia Goodell began a new job at the newly minted Harper’s Bazar magazine. (Read more about her experiences here and here.) She was living in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn with Aunt Mira and Uncle John Hill. According to her surviving correspondence, by the end of that year Lavinia was being courted by a local physician named Dr. Saxton.

The first mention of the suitor appears in a December 21, 1867 Lavinia received from her cousin Sarah Thomas. Lavinia must have mentioned the doctor in a previous letter because Sarah inquired,” Is Dr. Saxton a widower? Do you ever think of ‘the mixture’ in connection with him?” A week later, Sarah wrote again, “I think it looks rather suspicious about Dr. Saxton. You know you are fond of old gentlemen.”

The 1867 Brooklyn City Directory lists a physician named N.S. Saxton whose residence and office were in Greenpoint. According to the 1860 United States census, Nathaniel S. Saxton was born in 1810, making him 29 years older than Lavinia. The age difference apparently did not bother the doctor. On January 11, 1868, Lavinia wrote to her sister, Maria:

New Years it stormed terribly, and we had but few calls. One gent came in the morning and staid all day. He comes here a good deal, especially Sunday nights. Is quite learned – knows Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French & German. Is an M.D. Suppose I could become Mrs. “M.D.” if I chose. Don’t choose. Don’t say anything about this to anybody… Lots of love to the boys. Write soon. There comes the “M.D.”

Whether Maria spilled the beans to her parents or Lavinia told them about her admirer, by the following week they had heard of the situation since Clarissa Goodell wrote to Maria, “I think that old doctor must be in love with somebody. I am sure it cannot be a young lady of 28.” On February 1, 1868, Clarissa broached the subject to Lavinia directly. “I am glad you have had a pleasant time thus far this winter and that you have had enough of Dr. S before matters went any further. Such disparity in age cannot be congenial.” On February 20, Clarissa wrote to Maria, “I think that old doctor troubles her some. He is so amiable, after all, and wants to help her along about her German and she don’t want to give encouragement. I hope she will not and don’t believe she cares for him.”

On March 29, 1868, Lavinia wrote to her parents:

Dr. S. is now devoting himself to Mrs. Overton. He comes here frequently, tho not so much evenings as he used to. I don’t say much to him. Mrs. Overton wouldn’t have him, on account of his not being a professor of religion.

But apparently Dr. S. had not yet given up hope of winning Lavinia. On April 11, 1868, Clarissa Goodell wrote to Maria:

It seems that Doc Saxton is quite in love with Lavinia. She talks as though she has give him mitten. Says she would not have an interview with him alone for anything.

On May 11, Lavinia wrote to her parents, “There is no danger whatever of Dr. S. ever getting around me.”

The last mention of the good doctor appears in a January 9, 1870 letter that Lavinia wrote to her mother. By that time Lavinia had taken a room in a home owned by Germans in Manhattan but paid a visit to the Hills in Greenpoint. She mentioned in passing, “Dr. Saxton was there.”  

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (January 11, 1868); Sarah Thomas’s letters to Lavinia Goodell (December 21, 1867; December 17, 1867); Clarissa Goodell’s letters to Maria Frost (January 18, 1868; February 20, 1868; April 11, 1868);  Clarissa Goodell’s letters to Lavinia Goodell (February 1, 1868); Lavinia Goodell’s letters to William and Clarissa Goodell (March 29, 1868; May 11, 1868; January 9, 1870); 1867 Brooklyn City Directory; 1860 United States census;  http://www.word-detective.com/092205.html#:~:text=%22To%20give%20(someone)%20the,in%20the%20mid%2D19th%20century.

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