Legal History

Join Wisconsin’s legal community in celebrating 150 years of women in the law. Here are four ways that you, your law firm, or local legal community can recognize the significant contributions women have made to Wisconsin’s legal history.

Governor Proclaims June 17 as Wisconsin Women Lawyers Day

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lavinia Goodell becoming Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer, Gov. Tony Evers has proclaimed June 17, 2024, as Wisconsin Women Lawyers Day.

The proclamation praises Goodell for pioneering
Continue Reading Making History: Four Ways to Celebrate 150 Years of Women in the Law

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May 1, 2024 – As we prepare to commemorate
Law Day on May 1, 2024, I invite all Wisconsinites to reflect upon the enduring significance of this annual observance.

This year, the American Bar Association (ABA) has chosen the theme “The Voices of Democracy,” which aligns with the foundational principles of our legal system and the essence of our nation’s democratic ethos.

Annette Kingsland Ziegler, Marquette 1989, is chief justice of the
Wisconsin Supreme Court, Madison.

President
Continue Reading Law Day 2024: Honoring Our Legal Heritage and Democratic Values

Governor Proclaims June 17, 2024 Wisconsin Women Lawyers Day
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lavinia Goodell becoming Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer, Governor Tony Evers has proclaimed June 17, 2024, Wisconsin Women Lawyers Day.

The proclamation praises Lavinia Goodell for pioneering a path for women in the legal profession across the state and for facing the many obstacles thrown in her path with unwavering resilience. It recognizes the lasting impact of women lawyers on the fabric of the
Continue Reading Governor Proclaims June 17, 2024, Wisconsin Women Lawyers Day

We are excited to share with you a Forensics piece by our high schooler, Carter.
P.s. – He’s going to State!

Democracy lives in the people, democracy is the people, democracy is our best hope. This is a quote of Vice President Kamala Harris, and I think her words are undeniable. Democracy, an idea entrenched in the United States. An idea that the United States has helped spread all over the world. But what truly holds a democracy together?
Continue Reading American Democracy  

“Little by little, but all the time, we are gaining essential rights.”
Woman’s Journal, March 1877

March 8 is Women’s History Day. By happy coincidence, March 8 is also the anniversary of the day that Wisconsin’s governor signed into law legislation drafted by Lavinia Goodell allowing women to practice law in the state.

After Lavinia’s petition to be allowed to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court was denied in early 1876 (read more about that here), Lavinia drafted
Continue Reading ‘Little by little, but all the time, we are gaining essential rights.’

“There is no substantial reason why women should be denied the privilege of the ballot”
Lavinia Goodell, February 1874

February 1874 was a busy month for Lavinia Goodell. She studied law for hours nearly every day, in anticipation of taking a bar exam that would enable her to officially become a lawyer and begin practicing. She attended Ladies Temperance Union meetings and drafted a petition calling for the repeal of liquor sales in the State of Wisconsin, which she
Continue Reading ‘There is no substantial reason why women should be denied the privilege of the ballot’

“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
Continue Reading ‘I should like to be admitted next summer’

“He paid me $5.00 – my first fee here.”
Lavinia Goodell, December 17, 1879

As 1879 drew to a close, Lavinia Goodell found herself depressed and in ill-health. Her move to Madison (read more here) had not gone as planned. On Wednesday, December 17 Lavinia wrote a 12-page letter to her cousin Sarah Thomas in which she poured out her frustrations.

Lavinia did have one piece of good news. She had won her first case in Madison. “One
Continue Reading ‘He paid me $5.00 – my first fee here.’

Dec. 1, 2023 – A striking addition to the lobby at the State Bar of Wisconsin Center in Madison is a monument to both access to justice and the dedication and impact of rural and small-town lawyers.

After the State Bar Board of Governors’ meeting on Friday, Dec. 1, board members, State Bar leaders, attorneys, and community members gathered in the rotunda of the State Bar Center for the unveiling of a medallion donated by the late Myron LaRowe,
Continue Reading ‘Justice on Main Street’: Commemorating Rural and Small Town Lawyers

“I have been the bluest and lonesomest dog you ever saw.”
Lavinia Goodell, November 20, 1879

November 1879 was not a happy time for Lavinia Goodell. After eight years in Janesville, Wisconsin, she rather abruptly made the decision to move to Madison, Wisconsin’s capitol city, and set up her law practice there. She arrived in Madison by train on Saturday, November 15. On the 20th she wrote a long letter to her cousin Sarah Thomas in which she laid
Continue Reading ‘I have been the bluest and lonesomest dog you ever saw’

Lavinia Goodell, October 1879

In the fall of 1879, shortly before she moved to Madison and a few months before ill health forced her to stop practicing law, Lavinia Goodell wrote a number of articles for the Woman’s Journal countering pieces that had appeared in the Christian Union newspaper admonishing women to defer to their husbands. Read more here.

The October 4, 1879 Woman’s Journal contained one of Lavinia’s pieces titled “Submission, or Equality.” Lavinia began by quoting
Continue Reading ‘The woman who always submits wrongs the community.’

“I love old maids!”
Lavinia Goodell, December 1861

William Goodell’s anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia, was published every on Saturday. The first six and a half pages of the December 28, 1861 issue were filled with Civil War news and abolitionists’ hopes for an end to the conflict and freedom for the enslaved. But the “Family Miscellany” section that occupied the last page and a half of the paper offered readers lighter fare, including a piece written by twenty-two year
Continue Reading ‘I love old maids!’

“All men are commanded to repent. How significant that no women are thus commanded!”
Lavinia Goodell, May 1872

In early 1872, newspapers reported the scandalous story that Sarah Smiley, a Quaker woman, had been allowed to preach in a Brooklyn Presbyterian church. Lavinia Goodell, who had moved from Brooklyn to Janesville, Wisconsin the previous year, followed the story with interest and wrote a series of articles expressing her support that women should be allowed in the ministry – and
Continue Reading ‘All men are commanded to repent. How significant that no women are thus commanded!’

“Is woman’s position one of equality with man, or subjection to him?”
Lavinia Goodell, August 1873

In the summer of 1873, a year before she became a lawyer, Lavinia Goodell read an editorial titled “Woman Suffrage and Marriage” that had appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette. The premise of the piece was that there was no point in allowing women to vote because they would obviously vote in lock step with their husbands. As the Gazette put it, “To give
Continue Reading ‘Is woman’s position one of equality with man, or subjection to him?’

“If women be voted for, what shall longer hinder them from voting?”
Lavinia Goodell, March 1874

Lavinia Goodell was an avid reader and did not shy away from reading materials with which she disagreed. When that occurred, she would sometimes write a rebuttal piece in order to share her opposing viewpoint with the publication’s readers. She did this in March of 1874, three months before being admitted to practice law. Her target was an article in the Advance,
Continue Reading “If women be voted for, what shall long hinder them from voting?”

“The idea that the husband is the political representative of his wife is a fallacious one.”
Lavinia Goodell, May 1871

In another of her series of articles refuting commonly held beliefs about why women should not be allowed to vote, Lavinia Goodell rebutted the notions that there was no need for women to have the franchise because men already represented their views and that allowing women to participate in political decisions would create dissension in the home. She began:
Continue Reading “The idea that the husband is the political representative of his wife is a fallacious one.”