“I should like to be admitted next summer.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 1873

In January of 1874, exactly 150 years ago, Lavinia Goodell was in the final stages of her law studies and was beginning to plan how and when she would be admitted to practice law. Shortly before Christmas 1873, she wrote to her sister Maria, “I am studying Greenleaf’s evidence. It is very interesting, and I wish I hadn’t anything else to do but just go ahead on my law. I should like to be admitted next summer, but don’t know how it will be.”

Lavinia Goodell’s letter to her sister, December 18, 1873


Lavinia’s diary entries for January 1874 indicate that she studied law most days, often all day. She did not always absorb new concepts as quickly as she would like, and she sometimes became frustrated with herself. On January 9, she wrote, “Somehow didn’t seem to be very clear-headed and feel as if I wasn’t making as good a progress as I should.” She continued plodding through the multi-volume Greenleaf’s Evidence, covering 40 pages on one day and commenting that she liked it.

In addition to her studies, Lavinia also spent time doing some legal work for Attorney Pliny Norcross, who would later help make arrangements with the judge for her to take the examination that would allow her to be admitted to the bar. On the last day of January she reported being “in poor health” but nonetheless “studied about larcency.”

Although Lavinia was committed to do whatever it took to be allowed to practice law, in January 1874 she had no guarantee that Judge Conger would allow her to be examined or whether the judge and male lawyers who would administer and score the examination would deem her qualified. The uncertainty about the future weighed heavily on her and would continue to do so for another five months. But on June 17, 1874, her plans came to fruition. Judge Conger, after much study, could find no impediment to her being examined. She passed what was deemed a “brilliant examination,” and she became Lavinia Goodell, Attorney at Law.

2024 marks the sesquicentennial of Lavinia’s admission to practice law, an occasion worthy of note and of celebration. Plans are underway to commemorate Lavinia’s achievement in a number of ways. We hope many of you will be able to join us in honoring her and the sisters in law who followed in her footsteps.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (December 18, 1873); Lavinia Goodell’s diary, January 1874.

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