“You are nothing but what you aspire to be.”

Lavinia Goodell, May 5, 1860

The fourth installment in Lavinia Goodell’s series of humorous articles giving young men advice on how to win a wife was published in the Principia  (her father’s anti-slavery newspaper) the week of her twenty-first birthday in 1860. With the Civil War looming on the horizon, the paper’s early pages contained an article by Rev. Henry Cheever titled “Way-marks in the moral war with slavery,” which discussed whether churches should excommunicate slaveholders, and a long letter from Thaddeus Hyatt titled “A word from the Washington jail.”( Hyatt was a staunch abolitionist who was imprisoned after refusing to testify about his knowledge of John Brown’s failed raid on Harper’s Ferry. ) In the face of such somber news, Lavinia’s pithy articles no doubt provided a breath of fresh air to Principia readers. She began:

She went on to warn young men not to think too highly of themselves:

It is a very desirable thing to have some self-esteem, but it is desirable previously to have something in yourself worthy of your own esteem…. You think you are very self-reliant; you bend to no one; you stand on your own dignity; and sometimes you do very good things, … but why do you do them? … Only to “show your own independence,” to “let people know you have a mind of your own!” In other words, to minister to your own vanity, which is really the most servile and degrading of all unmanly pursuits. Don’t you see that it is?

Rather than being self-absorbed, Lavinia told the gents, “Keep your mind in a pure and heathy state, by looking out of self, above self, to something higher, nobler.” She said some men “conceive the idea that women are an inferior class of things” which leads the man to condescending behavior in order to flatter vanity. Lavinia’s response to such beliefs:

Unfortunate, mistaken, deluded youth! Just let me whisper to you, privately, that all the girls are laughing at you, and making all manner of fun of you, among themselves! As to marrying you – pooh! They know very well that you neither understand anything about them nor yourself!

She concluded:

Read the entire piece here.

Sources consulted: “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife,” Chapter IV, written by Lavinia Goodell and published in the Principia, May 5, 1860; https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=4123&pid=3.

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