Lavinia Goodell, October 1879

In the fall of 1879, shortly before she moved to Madison and a few months before ill health forced her to stop practicing law, Lavinia Goodell wrote a number of articles for the Woman’s Journal countering pieces that had appeared in the Christian Union newspaper admonishing women to defer to their husbands. Read more here.

The October 4, 1879 Woman’s Journal contained one of Lavinia’s pieces titled “Submission, or Equality.” Lavinia began by quoting the Christian Union’s comments about her most recent article.

Lavinia lost no time in rebutting the Christian Union’s sentiments:

Would the Christian Union recommend the husband to submit himself to his wife rather than have strife with her, because “almost any error will bring less suffering upon a household, and less evil upon the children, than perpetual conflict between husband and wife? If not, why not?


Lavinia continued to press her point:

Give a man the legal right, and teach him that he has also a moral right to decide every question of the matrimonial partnership, and that it is the duty of his wife to submit “rather than have strife,” and you put in the man’s hand a power with which no man ought to be entrusted, and which nine out of ten will abuse. Teach him, on the contrary, that his wife is his equal, give her equal power with him; let her decide the questions pertaining to her “sphere,” and he those pertaining to his, after mutual consultation and deference to each other, and the happiness and wellbeing of both, and of the family, will be increased an hundred fold.

Lavinia then cited medical treatises that opined that the habitual submission of the wife to the husband would have a detrimental effect on the wife’s mental health. She referred to an article written by a physician that had appeared in the March 1875 issue of Popular Science Monthly that said a person who is entirely dependent on others may suffer from mental impairment and this condition was especially seen in women because, “The utter helplessness and entire abolition of self-confidence so induced, have a most pernicious effect upon the mental processes; the intellect of such persons becomes restricted, and solely directed toward observing, and accommodating itself to the varying moods and passing caprices of those upon whom they depended. Chameleon like, they change color with every new shade of opinion with which they come in contact, until at last they lose their individuality altogether.”

Lavinia said:

Has not the criticism of Woman ever been that she is weak, irresolute, hysterical, lacking in self-control, self-confidence, reason and sound judgment; variable, artful, narrow, and subject to “morbid imaginings?” and now science explains the reason of this in the fact of the subjection of her will to man’s, which, in so many cases, has proved her mental and moral ruin. Is it best, “for the sake of peace,” that women should give to their children such mothers? Let us have no more of this barbarous teaching! The woman who always “submits,” rather than have strife, in so doing sins against God, wrongs the community, and defrauds her children of their rightful heritage, in thus dwarfing her mental and moral nature, by yielding into the hands of another the will which was given to her keeping, and which will one day be required of her “with usury.”

Read the entire piece here.

Sources consulted: Woman’s Journal, Vol. 10, No. 40, 10/4/79, seq. 319, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

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