“We women are all radicals.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 1860

The articles that Lavinia Goodell contributed to her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia, have been discussed in some of our earlier posts. (Read more here.) The February 25, 1860 issue of the paper contained an article she authored (although it was attributed to “Housekeeper”) titled “Meditations on Sweeping a Room.”

Twenty-year-old Lavinia’s piece was superficially about cleaning a room but, at a deeper level, it revealed that even at a young age she firmly believed women were every bit as capable as men – and were better suited to handle some tasks than their male counterparts. It also showed that she understood that when trying to accomplish something big (such as gaining more rights for women) it was better to implement small, incremental changes rather than trying to transform the world overnight.

Lavinia begins her article by laying out the task at hand – house cleaning –  and then comments, “We can’t expect to have everything perfectly pure and bright, in this world of dirt. Better to choose the least of two evils. This shows the folly of trying to make everything perfect, all at once, instead of trying to use a little reason and judgment, and smoothing over matters, and making the best of existing circumstances.” As she warmed to her theme, Lavinia sang the praises of women’s capabilities:

Women are naturally reformers. It is in them, “in their bones,” … Yes, there is a difference in mind, between the sexes. Witness the totally opposite effects which house-cleaning, sweeping, or any kind of “clearing up” produces upon them respectively. We women are all radicals. Arming ourselves with broom and scrub brushes, hot water and soap, we strike at once at the root of the matter. Not a word of compromise will we hear; not a bit of this smoothing over, and letting go – no indeed! Everything has got to be  moved, and turned upside down and inside out, and every nook and corner explored, and every particle of dust, and every guilty, trembling little wretch of a string, nail, old paper, soiled napkin, ancient glove, antediluvian shoe or boot, dragged forth to the light of day…. On our banner is engraved, “No compromise!” Nothing short of the entire abolition of dirt, throughout our domains, will answer our purpose.

As for men, Lavinia said they are “timid, conservative creatures. They dislike agitation. They cannot bear to have things disturbed,… No wonder they don’t like to have us, women, peer into their great political kitchen! … “ It is likely she was referring to something besides literal kitchens when she said, “Never mind, let’s get possession of the key, somehow; we can get around them, and then we’ll get in and we’ll give it such a scrubbing and cleansing, and fix it up and make it look ever so pretty. We know how!” She concluded by saying:

Some one has said that every atom, is the universe in miniature. Why isn’t my parlor, then, the world on a small scale? And when the world gets dirty why shouldn’t we arm ourselves, and go to work at it, without being afraid of the dust. It will come out bright, pure, fresh, like my parlor.

Read the entire piece here.

Lavinia adhered to this philosophy for the remainder of her life and worked tirelessly to gain equal rights for women.

Sources consulted: “Meditation on Sweeping a Room,” written by Lavinia Goodell, published in the February 25, 1860 issue of The Principia (available in Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive); Elisabeth S. Peck, So Life is Learning, (unpublished biography of Lavinia Goodell, available at Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Kentucky.

1 comment

Roberta Talbert

She was an awesome woman and a great writer. There is so much power in her words.

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