“Wouldn’t it be dreadful to have a drunkard for a father?”

“Susy’s Christmas” by Lavinia Goodell, published in the Principia January 1, 1863

Lavinia Goodell was an active participant in the temperance movement. In 1873 she helped form Janesville’s Ladies Temperance Union. In 1875, she ran for Janesville city attorney on the temperance ticket. (Although she was unsuccessful, she got 60 votes at a time when only men could cast ballots.)

Lavinia’s temperance advocacy began in her youth, and her short stories sometimes dealt with the evils of excessive drinking. The January 1, 1863 issue of the Principia, her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, contained a short story titled “Susy’s Christmas,” in which two privileged children ask their Aunt Kate for a Christmas day story and are rewarded with a tale about an unfortunate young girl named Susy.

In Lavinia’s story, Susy “was a wee bit of a thing, with a pale face, and deep blue earnest eyes, that didn’t laugh.” Susy had “no one in the wide world, but her father and mother” and her father was a drunkard.

He spent all the money he could get, to buy rum; and that kept them so very poor that they had to live in one little, dark, lonesome room, way up over so many stairs, in a tenement house…. Susy’s mother had to work hard, sewing, sewing, day after day, and sometimes late at night, to earn food and clothes for them both.

At Christmas time, the shop windows were in their glory and poor Susy wandered alone from window to window, perfectly delighted with the glittering array of dolls. That night she prayed for God to tell Santa Claus to come to bring her a doll. In the morning she found in her stocking “a real rag-baby, with arms and legs, and head, and with a calico dress on.”

Susy was enchanted with the doll, but her mother told her how the story of Santa Claus was made up for fun and that other girls’ mothers got them presents but Susy’s mother couldn’t afford to buy any of the beautiful things in the shop windows so she had tried to do the best she could and had sewn Susy a little doll. Lavinia’s story ends with the two privileged children going back to their lives and their Christmas presents. It is unclear whether the story of poor Susy’s Christmas will have any lasting impression on them.

Read the entire story here.

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