“They were in hopes of getting me tipsy.”

— Lavinia Goodell, Christmas 1869

Throughout her life, Lavinia Goodell enjoyed learning new things. In early 1868 she reported to her parents that she was studying German. Her instructor was a native German speaker, and she paid $20 for 25 one-hour weekly lessons.

In the fall of 1869, Lavinia decided that the best way to improve her German language skills would be to live with a German family, so she put an advertisement in the Staats-Zeitung German newspaper saying, “An American lady would like to find board in an educated and refined German family, for the purpose of learning the language. Minister’s family preferred.”  Lavinia received two responses and chose to rent a room at 228 East 23rd Street in New York. The move greatly shortened Lavinia’s commuting time to her job at Harper’s Bazar in lower Manhattan.

The home was owned by a German physician, Dr. Fuchs. Other occupants were the doctor’s wife and three year old daughter (a baby son arrived shortly after Lavinia moved in), and three other boarders. Lavinia described her new lodgings to her parents:

A four story brick house, English basement. I have the room above the back parlor. Quite a good sized apartment, and well furnished, marble top bureau and large glass, nice double bedstead, a very handsome wardrobe with mirror doors, stuffed easy chair, caned rocking chair & other chairs, closet with hot & cold water, bath room and water closet on same floor. For all this I am expected to pay $9.00 per week for four weeks & $10.00 thereafter if I cannot get someone to come in with me. If I can it will be only $7.00 apiece….

They keep a neat & plentiful table, and seem like real nice people. Guess I shall like them. So far I find but one drawback. There is an extensive tenement house in 22nd St., just back of us, and what with fiddles & accordians and dogs they make a good deal of noise…,

We are between 2nd & 3rd and I have only half a block to walk to take the 2nd Ave. cars, which pass Harper’s door. This will be splendid in bad weather.

Lavinia soon acquired a roommate named Miss Monelle, who was a medical student. The two young women got along well, although Lavinia was continually bemused at Miss Monelle’s penchant for flirting with men.

For a lifelong temperance advocate such as Lavinia, living with a German family was somewhat of a culture shock, particularly at the holidays.

Lavinia described the family’s Christmas celebration to her sister:

I spent Christmas day in making my winter bonnet, and expect to spend New Years in making over my every day cloak. They will receive calls at the house, but I don’t expect many, if any; and don’t care to sit in the parlor to see the Germans celebrate. I know how they “do it,” from Christmas Eve; and am satisfied. O, ‘Ri! What would you think to live with such people? You see there is an “irrepressible conflict” between us on the subject of temperance; I being a teetotaler & in the habit of delivering temperance lectures to them as occasion requires. Well, Christmas Eve they presented me with a cup of something which they insisted was simple lemonade; not a bit of anything intoxicating in it; they had made it on purpose for me knowing that I wouldn’t drink wine; they would be offended if I didn’t take it, etc. So I tasted it. In a moment I detected wine, tho’ I didn’t know in how large a proportion. Of course I didn’t drink it. Afterwards I learned that it was clear wine, only the lemon slices in to deceive. Now it is my private opinion that they were in hopes of getting me tipsy, and so ending my temperance example and precepts. I doubt they regarded it in a moral light at all, but simply that it would be a good practical joke. However I was “too many for them.” My roommate had no conscience about the matter, but drank glass after glass till she dared not drink any longer & then pretended to & threw the wine away furtively, when they were not looking – all to be “social!” I was indignant at her, for she knows better .


Glühwein, or German “clear wine”

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell letters to William & Clarissa Goodell (April 12, 1868; October 8, 1869), Lavinia Goodell letter to Maria Frost, December 30, 1869

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