“I have been the bluest and lonesomest dog you ever saw.”
Lavinia Goodell, November 20, 1879
November 1879 was not a happy time for Lavinia Goodell. After eight years in Janesville, Wisconsin, she rather abruptly made the decision to move to Madison, Wisconsin’s capitol city, and set up her law practice there. She arrived in Madison by train on Saturday, November 15. On the 20th she wrote a long letter to her cousin Sarah Thomas in which she laid bare her unhappiness and frustrations:
I have been the bluest and lonesomest dog you ever saw since I have been here; am feeling a little better today. Last week I was very busy packing off, which was melancholy business. I sent the sofas & best rocker, parlor chairs & carpet, stand & bedding to Maria, rocker, stove, dining chairs & office furniture for myself & sold everything else…. Came up here sat. afternoon, bag & baggage. Left freight at the depot & came to Miss Bright’s with trunk & carpet bag.
In October, Lavinia had spent several days in Madison participating in a women’s convention and spent time with the “Misses Bright,” who lived on Carroll Street, at the intersection of Johnson, not far from the capitol. Eliza and Winifred Bright were two elderly unmarried sisters who had for a time run a school for young ladies. By the time Lavinia met the Brights, they were running a boarding house.
Lavinia described her lodgings:
It is rather a dreary boarding house. Two old ladies, sisters, unmarried, keep it – have no girl at present & feel poor & depressed, tho they are very intelligent & kind hearted & interested in me. The house is old-fashioned & dreary & not half warmed & the windows look out on nothing. The only alteration is an old piano, not in very good time, which no one plays on but me. The only boarder besides me is a middle aged woman who has come here to get a divorce & is in a very melancholy state of mind & can neither eat or sleep. there are several gentleman lodgers but they go right upstairs & I have never seen one of them. There are to be two legislators here to board after New Years. The family took me to be the cheerful one of the establishment, but it has been uphill work for me this week. I have so longed for my own cheerful rooms in Janesville, but today it is sunshining & the fire burn better & I don’t feel so blue.
On Sunday, the day after her arrival in Madison, one of the Misses Bright took Lavinia to the Congregational Church, and that cheered Lavinia up a bit. She reported that it was a “smart church;” and Rev. Charles Richards, the pastor, was “very talented & well liked. He is as liberal as Mr. Sawin (the pastor at Janesville’s First Congregational Church) & so are the most intelligent members. Think I shall like it.” After the service, the woman boarder who was divorcing accompanied Lavinia to the jail where “the boys were intoxicated with delight to see us” and they sang and prayed with them.
Lavinia spent several days hunting for an office. This, too, was a depressing experience:
I thought I would get a cheerful office & fix it up & spent my days in that but “men propose.” There are no end of light, sunny, cozy rooms with enrapturing views from the windows in unbusinesslike places where I would never get a client, but the only good business locations are in back rooms with no views but walls & roofs & no sunshine. . . .
The room I have finally decided upon is over a book store & on the same block with 3 doctors & the office of the man who owns the building & spends his time looking after his property. He does his own law work but said he would recommend me to others. . . . Even now I can’t have the room for several weeks & am to “turn in” with one of the Drs. till I can have it. Rent $50 per year.
Lavinia tried to end her letter on a brighter note by saying she thought she would like Madison after she got acquainted. She told her cousin she had invited one of the young men she had befriended when he was incarcerated at the Rock County jail to join her for Thanksgiving dinner, “but presume he can’t come. Well, I hope he will be happy & good. If I am not otherwise engaged shall go to the jail. Love to all. Aff, Lavinia.”
Unfortunately, after only six weeks in Madison Lavinia’s health failed to the point where she was forced to give up her law practice. She went to Milwaukee to seek treatment at a Turkish bath establishment. She died in Milwaukee, of ovarian cancer, on March 31, 1880.
Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Sarah Thomas (November 20, 1879); Lavinia Goodell’s diary (November 15 – 21, 1879); Madison, Wisconsin City Directories (1878-1884); Wisconsin State Journal (November 21, 1885 and February 3, 1886) (re deaths of the Misses Bright).
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