“Mind proudly asserts its superiority over matter.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 1859

Lavinia Goodell’s contributions to the Principia, her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, have been discussed in prior posts. (Click here and here to learn more.) None of Lavinia’s pieces bear her full name. We first learned that Lavinia wrote articles for the Principia when we reviewed an unpublished biography written by Elisabeth S. Peck, a long time history teacher at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, where the William Goodell family papers are housed. Ms. Peck mentioned the titles of some of Lavinia’s Principia pieces, and that set us on the path of trying to uncover as many as we can. (The photo of the woman we call the “faux Lavinia” made its way to Berea because of Ms. Peck. Read more about that here.)

One of Lavinia’s early contributions to the Principia appeared in the December 31, 1859 issue. The story, written when Lavinia was twenty years old,  is titled “Meditation on Darning a Rent in My Dress,” and is signed “Housekeeper.” A digital version of the Principia is available in a massive database called Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive, published by Gale Publishing Company. Lest there be any doubt that Lavinia Goodell actually wrote ”Meditation,” the Principia issue scanned by Gale has “Lavinia Goodell” written at the beginning of  the piece in what looks like it could be Lavinia’s hand.

The story is a humorous narrative of a busy wife and mother mending a difficult rent, i.e. tear, in a dress.

As with many of Lavinia’s stories, she manages to combine humor, a facility for describing an everyday occurrence in minute detail, and a hint of smugness as she describes the many household duties she manages to carry out with great efficiency before she can sit down and mend her garment:

Of course the fire would not burn with its usual ready good-nature, but smoked, and sulked away, and gruffly refused to help get breakfast. Of course my noble liege-lord expected to get off an hour earlier than usual, this very morning! And of course Charlie was sick with eating too much supper last night.

After dispatching these problems, she had to bake and dust and make preserves. It was “long past noon” when she turned to her sewing and “lay it out on my lap for consideration – examining its symptoms as a physician would his patients.” Finally, after a great deal of work, and a commentary on how difficult it is for women to keep up with maintaining their wardrobe, the task was finished – at least until the garment tore again. Read the entire story here.

Sources consulted: “Meditation on Darning a Rent in my Dress,” by Lavinia Goodell (Published in the December 31, 1859 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.

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