Lavinia (Paul) Whales (ca. 1843-1925) was born enslaved around 1823 in West Virginia to Armstead and Lucy Ann Paul. Not much is known about her early life. According to the 1916 “Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” “Lavinia belonged to a family named Ruffners, the same people who held Booker T. Washington in slavery.” Washington was an educator who went on to be an adviser to several United States presidents. According to records, Washington arrived at the Ruffner’s home after emancipation to work during his teenage years. Lavinia and her family moved to Cincinnati, OH after their emancipation. On November 30, 1867, she married James Whales (ca. 1848-1906), son of John and Caroline Whales. James was a Civil War veteran (Commissary Sergeant, 119th US Colored Infantry, Company A).
By 1870, the Lavinia and James were living in Louisville. They first lived on Churchill Street between 11th and 12th Streets in the California Neighborhood. Churchill Street was later renamed St. Catherine Avenue. James worked as a carriage driver and expressman and Lavinia worked as a laundress out of their home. By 1888, the couple owned their own house at 1211 Oldham Street in the California Neighborhood. On February 18, 1906, James died at the approximate age of 58 from pneumonia. He was buried in Cave Hill National Cemetery. Lavinia continued to live in their home and work as a laundress until her death. On December 27, 1925, she died at the approximate age of 82. She was buried in Section B, Range 11, Lot 49 of Eastern Cemetery. Her grave appears to be unmarked. She was a member of the Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The photo of Lavinia is from “Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”