“The expectorations of tobacco juice in the Circuit Court sometimes become alarming.”

Lavinia Goodell, 1876

Lavinia Goodell’s work in the temperance movement is well known, but she also had a lifelong aversion to the use of tobacco products. Lavinia grew up in a household that followed the principles of Dr. Sylvester Graham. In the 1830s, Lavinia’s father had lived in one of Graham’s boarding houses in New York City. Residents who were caught using tobacco were asked to leave. (Drinking coffee, tea, chocolate or liquor were also evictable offenses.)

In the 1860s and 1870s, chewing tobacco was common among men of all economic stripes, and spittoons were a ubiquitous fixture in residences and commercial buildings. Unfortunately, the lack of a spittoon did not dampen gents’ propensity for chewing and spitting. The Janesville Gazette chided local men:

Janesville Daily Gazette, January 14, 1879

When Lavinia was assisting her father in publishing his anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia, she wrote a piece for the October 6, 1860 issue titled, “The Girls Defining Their Position Platform – No Tobacco or No Husband,”  in which she advocated for young women forming anti-tobacco societies and signing pledges never to marry a man who smoked, snuffed, or chewed.  

In 1865, shortly before the Principia ceased publication, in a letter to her sister Lavinia described a young man who had recently been coming to work at the office.  “There is a young gentleman, a nephew of Mr. Alden’s, who has been employed in the office lately. Don’t fancy him either. He smokes, spits, and whistles. That’s my bill of indictment against him.”

Tobacco chewing was so widespread that even courtrooms had spittoons. Lavinia described the phenomenon in an article that appeared in an 1875 issue of the Woman’s Journal:

I have sat in court all day long, day after day and week after week, and have never seen or heard anything calculated to shock a woman of refinement, excepting the marvelous expectorations of tobacco juice, which I confess were somewhat of a surprise to me. I had no idea, before, of the wonderful capacity of the human system for generating saliva. But my professional brethren are improving in this respect, and I am sanguine enough to believe that I shall live to see the day when spittoons will no longer ornament the court-room.

When Lavinia opened her law office in Janesville, she debated about whether she should have a spittoon but ultimately decided against it, saying, “I do dislike to mar my pretty room with such an unsightly object. So I conclude to wait and see whether my clients develop spitting propensities.” 

In a paper read at the Fourth Woman’s Congress in Philadelphia in October 1876, which was later printed in the Woman’s Journal, Lavinia waxed philosophical about the tobacco chewing habit and was thankful that she did not have to live with – and clean up after – a man who was constantly spitting vile juices:

It is true that the expectorations of tobacco juice in the Circuit Court sometimes become alarming; but the philosophic woman lawyer reflects that each one of those men, spitting so profusely, probably has a wife at home who is obliged to clean up after him, and inhale the offensive odor, day after day, year in and year out; and in her gratitude that she is not that woman, she readily overlooks the trifling annoyance of sitting in the same room, or even at the same desk with him, a few, brief hours. 

Sources consulted: Janesville Gazette (January 14, 1879); “The Girls Defining Their Position Platform – No Tobacco or No Husband” (Published in the Principia, October 6, 1860); Lavinia Goodell’s letters to Maria Frost (Undated 1865 letter; July 14, 1874); “Shall Women Study Law” Woman’s Journal, Vol. 6, No. 36, 9/4/75, seq. 287, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University; “Women in the Legal Profession,” Woman’s Journal, vol. 7, no. 48, 11/25/76, seq. 384, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.  

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