Legal History

“Went to a temperance drama at Lappin’s Hall.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 10, 1874

Janesville, Wisconsin has a wealth of historical buildings remaining, including some frequented by Lavinia Goodell when she lived in the city in the 1870s. One such building is the Lappin-Hayes Block located at the corner of Main and Milwaukee Streets, in the heart of the city’s downtown.

Lappin Block, c. 1880

Janesville is named after Henry James, who built a timber house on the Rock River,
Continue Reading “Went to a temperance drama at Lappin’s Hall.”

“A young man from Beloit, by name of Dow, was examined and admitted with me.”
Lavinia Goodell, June 18, 1874

Lavinia Goodell was not the only person to successfully undertake the bar examination at the Rock County Courthouse and be admitted to practice law in Wisconsin on June 17, 1874. A second aspiring attorney went through the same trial. Lavinia wrote to her sister the next day, “A young man from Beloit, by name of Dow, was examined and
Continue Reading “A young man from Beloit, by name of Dow, was examined and admitted with me.”

“I am anxious to go to school next quarter.”
Lavinia Goodell, December 26, 1853

Lavinia Goodell was a sickly child and, as a result, had very little in the way of formal education until she and her parents moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1853. It has long been known that Lavinia graduated from the Brooklyn Heights Seminary, a girl’s school, in 1858, but we have recently discovered that before matriculating there, she briefly attended two other schools.
Continue Reading “I am anxious to go to school next quarter.”

“The extent to which wives flatter the vanity and humor the weaknesses of their husbands is humiliating to both men and women, and degrading to matrimony.”

Lavinia Goodell, October 1876

Lucy Stone, a lifelong advocate for women’s rights, was one of Lavinia Goodell’s mentors.

Lucy Stone

In 1870, Lucy and her husband, Henry Blackwell, launched the Woman’s Journal, a paper promoting suffrage and women’s rights. Lavinia Goodell wrote numerous articles for the paper and shortly before her death
Continue Reading “The extent to which wives flatter the vanity and humor the weaknesses of their husbands is humiliating to both men and women, and degrading to matrimony.”

“We women are all radicals.”
Lavinia Goodell, February 1860

The articles that Lavinia Goodell contributed to her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia, have been discussed in some of our earlier posts. (Read more here.) The February 25, 1860 issue of the paper contained an article she authored (although it was attributed to “Housekeeper”) titled “Meditations on Sweeping a Room.”

Twenty-year-old Lavinia’s piece was superficially about cleaning a room but, at a deeper level, it revealed that even at
Continue Reading “We women are all radicals.”

“I am in no haste to marry.”
Lavinia Goodell, February 14, 1864

While the majority of nineteenth century women married, Lavinia Goodell remained single and, by all accounts, her lack of a husband never bothered her. (Her sister, on the other hand, worried that Lavinia would not be able to support herself and hoped she would find a suitable spouse. Read more here.) The many articles Lavinia wrote for the Principia, her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, often poked
Continue Reading “I am in no haste to marry.”

“Miss Goodell is a person of rather a singular character.”

Written by a friend of Lavinia Goodell, May 9, 1866

When she died in 1880, Lavinia Goodell left behind hundreds of letters, multiple diaries, and many published articles which provide insight into her character and personality, but how did the people closest to her view her? Fortunately the William Goodell Family Papers in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky provide firsthand descriptions of Lavinia
Continue Reading “Miss Goodell is a person of rather a singular character.”

“Went down street. Got my business cards.”
Lavinia Goodell, June 18, 1874

The William Goodell Family papers, housed in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, contain hundreds of letters written or received by Lavinia Goodell, starting from her teenage years in the 1850s and continuing until her death in 1880. In addition, the papers include scores of letters to and from other family members, some of which mention Lavinia. A recent visit to Berea
Continue Reading “Went down street. Got my business cards.”

“If a woman can’t dress in a rational and decent way, I shouldn’t like to live among such barbarians.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 8, 1853

In 1853, fourteen year old Lavinia Goodell tried unsuccessfully to encourage her twenty-six year old sister Maria to try a new fashion trend: bloomers.

A bloomer dress

In the mid 1800s, women wore corsets and multiple petticoats weighing as much as fifteen pounds in order to fill out their skirts. These voluminous undergarments made movement
Continue Reading “If a woman can’t dress in a rational and decent way, I shouldn’t like to live among such barbarians.”

“I screamed ‘Fire’ and called to Pa”
Lavinia Goodell, December 28, 1853

Fourteen-year-old Lavinia Goodell experienced two harrowing events in December of 1853. On December 10, while working in her father’s offices in lower Manhattan she witnessed the huge fire that destroyed Harper & Brothers publishing company. On December 28 she was again helping her father when a fire broke out in the next room.

William Goodell had moved to Brooklyn with his wife and daughter earlier in the
Continue Reading “I screamed ‘Fire’ and called to Pa”

“You have probably heard news of the great fire.”
Lavinia Goodell, December 14, 1853

Lavinia Goodell lived in New York (mainly in Brooklyn but also, for a year, in Manhattan) from 1853 until 1871. During her years in the city she witnessed many historic events. She watched president-elect Lincoln’s carriage procession from a Fifth Avenue balcony. She and her family survived the deadly draft riots of 1863. In December of 1853, fourteen year old Lavinia was an eye witness
Continue Reading “You have probably heard news of the great fire.”

“We next proceeded to Barnum’s museum”
Lavinia Goodell, October 12, 1853

P.T. Barnum was a nineteenth century showman who is best known for founding the Barnum & Bailey circus in 1871. But nearly twenty-five years earlier he purchased a museum in what is now New York City’s financial district, added unusual – and often fake or deceiving – exhibits, and renamed the establishment Barnum’s American Museum. In the early 1850s, the museum was a popular tourist destination and in
Continue Reading “We next proceeded to Barnum’s museum.”

“I visited the Crystal Palace and must tell you all about it.”
Lavinia Goodell, November 23, 1853

In the summer of 1853, the Crystal Palace exhibition building opened on 42nd Street in New York City, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, in what is now Bryant Park. Inspired by London’s 1851 Crystal Palace, the New York edifice had the shape of a Greek cross and featured a dome that was 148 feet high and 100 feet in diameter.

Crystal Palace
Continue Reading “I visited the Crystal Palace and must tell you all about it.”

“Mrs. Stanton has sent us her picture and Miss Anthony’s to hang up in our office.”
Lavinia Goodell, April 5, 1879

Lavinia Goodell had a lifelong admiration for the work Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony did to promote women’s rights, particularly suffrage. Lavinia’s mother, Clarissa Cady Goodell, was a cousin of Stanton’s through her fourth great grandfather. Lavinia, along with her mother and sister, followed Stanton’s and Anthony’s writings and Lavinia regularly corresponded with both women.

Elizabeth
Continue Reading “Mrs. Stanton has sent us her picture and Miss Anthony’s to hang up in our office.”

“Next Sunday, Mrs. Van Cott again.”
Lavinia Goodell, July 13, 1873

Lavinia Goodell championed the right of all women to enter the profession of their choice. She believed that by developing their minds, women would be able to support themselves financial and  potentially avoid the need to embark upon a loveless marriage solely for economic reasons. She strongly supported women entering the clergy, a notion that was anathema even to some otherwise progressive nineteenth century men.

Lavinia made a
Continue Reading “Next Sunday, Mrs. Van Cott again.”

“She succeeded far beyond my utmost expectations.”
Allan Pinkerton’s comment on Kate Warne

Although Lavinia Goodell and Kate Warne never met, in February of 1861 they shared a common interest: following the progress of Abraham Lincoln’s journey from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C.  On the afternoon of February 19,  twenty-one year old Lavinia joined throngs of other New Yorkers to watch the president-elect’s carriage procession in mid-town Manhattan. (Read her account here.)

While Lavinia was in Manhattan, Kate
Continue Reading “She succeeded far beyond my utmost expectations.”