“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 College turned up an exciting – and never before seen – find: a business card that Lavinia had printed just days after her admission to the bar in June 1874.

After passing a rigorous examination in the early evening of June 17, 1874, Lavinia was eager to begin practicing law. Her diary entry for the next day reads, “After tea went down street, got mail and called at Gazette office to get cards printed.” She picked up her business cards three days later.

 

Because Lavinia had not yet made definite plans about where to set up her office, the cards contained no street address. And she purposefully identified herself as “Miss Goodell.” She explained to her sister:

I put “Miss” on my cards because I am tired of getting letters directed to Mrs. Lavinia Goodell, and having to explain, also because my name, being rather unusual, some benighted heathen might not know, but what I was a man, and I want everybody to have a realizing sense that I am a woman lawyer. Besides, I do not think it is necessary to do everything just as men do, if you know a better way.

On June 24, Lavinia entered into an agreement to rent an office in the Tallman Block on West Milwaukee Street. (The sites of her office and the Gazette Printing Company are just two of the stops on the Lavinia Goodell walking tours. If you are in Janesville, Wisconsin, check them out.) According to her diary, that evening she wrote at least half a dozen letters. One of them went to Cettie Wattles, a young friend of the family who was a student at Ohio’s Oberlin College, as was Lavinia’s beloved eldest nephew, William Goodell Frost.

Lavinia had written to Willie on April 4, 1874 and chided him by saying, “We hear of you occasionally through your mother, but I suppose you are too busy to write us much directly.” She asked him, “Do you ever see Cettie Wattles? If you do, tell her that I mean to answer her letter sometime in the present century. I am so busy that I neglect my correspondents sadly.”

Lavinia’s letter to Cettie Wattles does not exist, but Lavinia clearly told Cettie that she had passed the bar and apparently enclosed one of her new business cards, which she asked the young woman to pass on to Willie. Cettie obliged immediately.

Cettie Wattles’ letter to William Goodell Frost, June 27, 1874

Read more about the early days of Lavinia’s legal practice here and here. And you can be sure we will continue to scour the documents in the William Goodell family archive in search of more never before seen gems like her business card, so we can share them with you.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diary (June 18, 20, 24, 1874); Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Sarah Thomas (June 18, 1874);  Lavinia Goodell’s letter to William G. Frost (April 4, 1874); L. C. Wattles’ letter to William G. Frost (June 27, 1874); Maria Goodell Frost, Life of Lavinia Goodell (unpublished manuscript).

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