Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the William Goodell Family Papers, 1780-1878

Accession Number: HC 4
William Goodell Family Papers, 1780-1892
Bulk dates: 1820-1878
9 linear feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series Description
Series I - William Goodell Documents - Overview

Series II - Goodell Family Papers -Overview

Access and Use

Provenance: Following his mother's death in in Berea in 1899, William Goodell Frost, third president of Berea College, placed the Goodell family papers in the Berea College Library (some had already been donated to Oberlin College while he was a faculty member there.). His mother, Maria Goodell Frost, was the daughter of William and Clarissa Goodell and sister to Lavinia Goodell.

Access: All of the archival materials described below may be accessed online through the portal entitled "Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice: 1490-2007," hosted by Adam Matthew Digital and available through participating libaries. There are no restrictions on the collection other than federal copyright regulations.

Citation: The William Goodell Family Papers, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, KY.

Related Archives

  • HC 03 - The Antislavery Collection
  • RG 1 - Founders & Founding, BCA
  • RG 3.03 - William G. Frost Papers
  • William Goodell Family Papers (RG 30/29), Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio.

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The William Goodell Family Papers consist of correspondence, writings, sermons and addresses, diaries, and biographical material of abolitionist editor, writer, and speaker William Goodell (1792-1878), his wife Clarissa, and his two daughters, Maria Goodell Frost (1826-1899) and Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880). Like their parents, the Goodell daughters supported the temperance and antislavery movements, but also sought equal rights for women and, in Lavinia's case, prison reform. Lavinia Goodell is noteworthy as the first woman to gain recognition as a lawyer in the state of Wisconsin.


William Goodell, a native of New York, was a prominent 19th century abolitionist and temperance reformer. He either edited or published such reform-minded publications as The Investigator and General Intelligencer, Friend of Man, Christian Investigator, and Principia. Although never ordained, he founded a church in Honeoye, New York, in 1842, based on the principles of emancipation, prohibition and church reform. Goodell was among those who organized the American Missionary Society and the National Prohibition Party. In 1870 he and his wife, Clarissa Cady Goodell, removed to Janesville, Wisconsin, home of their two daughters, where he remained until his death. The collection includes over 380 of Goodell's sermons and addresses; correspondence with family, colleagues, and such prominent abolitionists as Gerrit Smith, Lewis Tappan, Henry Stanton, Lysander Spooner, Charles Torrey, and Henry Stanton; and various writings. Included in Goodell's writings are manuscripts of Moral Excellence: The Highest Good; Moral Right, The Highest Law; The Theology of Jesus Christ; and Congregationalism, which were never published. Also present are smaller writings on anti-slavery and temperance, as well as many poems.

Clarissa Maria Goodell Frost, eldest daughter of William and Clarissa Goodell, was the mother of Berea College's third president-William G. Frost. Like her father, Maria was an advocate of both abolitionist and temperance reform. She was also active in the women's suffrage movement. Included in the collection are Mrs. Frost's personal diaries of the years 1874, 1877, and 1879-1884; an unpublished manuscript on the life of her sister, Lavinia Goodell; a Temperance Essay; and an article entitled "Ten Reasons Why Women Should Vote." Correspondence includes letters to and from Mrs. Frost's husband, Rev. Lewis Frost; her son, Lewis Clayton Frost; other family members; and her publisher.

Rhoda Lavinia Goodell, the younger daughter of William and Clarissa Goodell, became, in 1874, the first woman lawyer admitted to the Wisconsin bar. Her papers include 6 personal diaries (1873, 1874, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1880) which document her day-to-day activities, and extensive correspondence with family and friends. Also present is a brief Miss Goodell presented before the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, an essay, "The Responsibility of the North for Slavery," and other miscellaneous writings.

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Series Description
19 Manuscript Boxes, 9 linear feet

(Box list available by clicking series links below)

Series I William Goodell Documents - Overview Boxes 1-12

Includes writings, sermons and addresses, correspondence and some anti-slavery materials from William Goodell. This series relates to Goodell's work as a journalist, minister, and temperance and anti-slavery reformer.

Series I.A Writings Boxes 1-4

These documents by William Goodell include notes, essays, poems, and a book-length manuscript that remained unpublished.

Series I.B Sermons and Addresses Boxes 5-10

Although Goodell never went to seminary and was never ordained, he formed a church in New York state, based on an evangelical understanding of Christianity but not restricted to one denomination. Freedom from denominational control meant the congregations was also free to receive persons of color and oppose slaveholding as a sinful practice. This series includes both numerous sermons prepared for the church in Honeyeye, as well as addresses prepared for reform-minded audiences elsewhere, or for conferences or conventions.

Series I.C Correspondence Boxes 10-11

William Goodell corresponded with most of the prominent 19th century abolitionists in the United States, often in connection with items published in one or another of the periodicals he edited, such as The Investigator and Principia. Some of the letters are about subscriptions, but many more discuss the key issues debated among the reformers and abolitionists of the 19th century. Goodell was also involved in political conventions, formation of the American Missionary Society, and later the Temperance platform that was represented by presidential candidate James Black.

Series I.D Antislavery Records and Clippings Box 11, cont.

This section contains circulars, reviews, and other printed documents, including William Goodell's 1833 appointment to serve as an agent of the Antislavery Society for three months. Another folder includes letters and information regarding the antislavery collection developed by Oberlin librarian H Matson with assistance fromWilliam Goodell Frost; a handwritten account of the life of the Rev. Daniel Worth, who was imprisoned in North Carolina for preaching against slavery; clippings, including one from Harper's Bazaar summarizing Goodell's career; Goodell's published account of his interview with President Lincoln, and obituaries.

Series I.E Temperance Boxes 11a-11b

This series consists of published Temperance pamphlets collected by William Goodell, then held in the possesion of William Goodell and Eleanor Frost, finally donated to Berea College by Norman Frost c1956. Pamphlets date from 1830-1879 and were added to the collection in April 2011.

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Series II Goodell Family Papers - Overview Boxes 12-17

This series consists primarily of personal records of Maria G. Frost and Lavinia Goodell, as well as the more personal letters and an autobiography by William Goodell. Writings by the Goodell sisters are collected here.

Sub-Series II.A Personal and Biographical Documents Boxes 13,14

Most of these are small diaries kept by Maria Frost and Lavinia Goodell.

Sub-Series II.B Family Correspondence
Box 15, 16

Much of Maria's correspondence with her husband Lewis Frost, her sister, parents, and children, is preserved here. Lavinia's personal correspondence is also preserved, mostly with family members and friends.

Sub-Series II.C Writings of Lavinia Goodell and Maria Frost
Box 16

A historically signficant document, Lavinia's brief for presentation to the Wisconsin Supreme Court makes a compelling argument, and its acceptance sealed her efforts to see women lawyers recognized.. Maria's account of her sister's life and her statement on women's suffrange are also of great interest.

Sub-Series II.D Elizabeth Peck's Notes on Lavinia Goodell
Box 17

Elizabeth Peck, who started teaching at Berea in 1912, wrote a book-length manuscript about Lavinia Goodell that was never published. She transcribed some of Lavinia's letters and diary entries from the William Goodell Family Papers in the process of her research. The categories she used to arrange her typed notes and transcriptions is preserved in this box. Some folders are empty (Pictures), some have only a few lines, while others are more extensive. Elizabeth Peck's use of this material may be traced in the earlier draft of her manuscript on Lavinia Goodell in the Berea College Archives, and in the final version, in the Berea Collection, entitled, So Life is Learning.

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