Lavinia Goodell

The first woman lawyer admitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court had to fight for that status, overcoming opposition from the most powerful legal figure in the state. Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880) was also one of the first female trial lawyers in the United States, a nationally-respected writer, a Vice President of the Association for the Advancement of Woman, a candidate for Janesville City Attorney, a successful lobbyist, a jail reformer, and a temperance advocate. Yet she is undeservedly obscure. Another woman’s likeness adorns her spot in books, on the web, and at the Rock County Courthouse. Lavinia Goodell: The Private Life and Public Trials of Wisconsin’s First Woman Lawyer aims to secure her rightful place in history.

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“Am glad you like the photo.” Lavinia Goodell, January 9, 1871 Lavinia Goodell mentioned having her photograph taken on several occasions. One of her sittings occurred the week before Christmas in 1870. At the time, Lavinia was living with her aunt and uncle in Brooklyn and working at Harper’s Bazar in lower Manhattan. She wrote to her parents on December 18 that she was enclosing $3.00 for them to frame a photograph which she was going to send them for their Christmas present. She said, “Don’t know how good it will be.” Two days later she wrote her parents again,…
“I suppose you had to give your real name to the publishers.” Clarissa Goodell, April 21, 1866 There is an old adage that writers should write what they know. Lavinia Goodell took that advice to heart. She often drew on her personal experiences for her short stories, and she clearly based some of her characters on herself, her friends, and her family. Sometimes her keen powers of observation hit a bit too close to home. A case in point was her story, “A Psychological Experiment,” which appeared in the June 1866 issue of Harper’s Magazine.   The protagonist of “A…
“I like my father and Mr. Jocelyn better than any other men.” Lavinia Goodell, 1865 Reverend Simeon S. Jocelyn and his family were good friends of the Goodells for many years. Both Lavinia Goodell and her father benefitted from Rev. Jocelyn’s advice. Rev. Simeon S. Jocelyn Simeon Jocelyn was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1799. He came from a long line of New England Congregationalists who were deeply opposed to slavery. Jocelyn was an engraver by trade, but his true calling was the ministry. By the age of 25 he had become the leader of a church of free…
“I have a tremendous large school. 92 names on my day school list.” Sarah Thomas to Lavinia Goodell, January 22, 1871 Lavinia Goodell had lifelong friendships with many people who were active in the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War. Once the war ended, many continued to work to gain equal opportunities for Blacks. One of those people, Sallie Holley, came to play an important part in the life of Lavinia’s cousin and close confidante, Sarah Thomas. Sallie Holley was born in New York State in 1818. Her father, Myron, was an abolitionist and an associate of Lavinia Goodell’s…
“Got a telegram from Lucy Stone that her suffrage convention was to be here” Lavinia exchanged dozens of letters with Lucy Stone, a pioneer for women’s rights and one of the most famous women in mid-19th century America. In 1870, Lucy and her husband launched the Woman’s Journal, which was hailed as a “history-maker and history recorder for the suffrage cause” by Carrie Chapman Catt, who played a leading role in the passage of the 19th Amendment. Catt said “the suffrage success of today is not conceivable without the Woman’s Journal’s part in it.” Lavinia not only wrote for the…
“Miss Eveleth & Carrie Jocelyn are off for Beaufort, S.C. to teach the contrabands.” Lavinia Goodell, January 11, 1864 Prior to the Civil War, it was illegal for enslaved people to learn to read or write. Beginning in 1863, Freedmen’s schools were created in areas occupied by Union forces to provide education for newly freed Blacks. (The Blacks were referred to as “contrabands of war.”) Lavinia Goodell, who grew up in a staunch abolitionist family, knew several women who taught at Freedmen’s schools. Freedmen’s School at Edisto Island, South Carolina In early 1864, Carrie Jocelyn and Emma Eveleth, two of…
“If I have any model in fiction, it is Mrs. Stowe.” Lavinia Goodell, April 21, 1860 Lavinia Goodell’s acquaintance with Congregationalist preacher Henry Ward Beecher has already been chronicled, but she was also an avid reader of the prose produced by two of Henry’s sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Catharine Beecher. Harriet Beecher Stowe Harriet Beecher was born in 1811. After teaching for several years, in 1832 she accompanied her father, Congregational minister Lyman Beecher,  to Cincinnati, Ohio when he became the president of Lane Seminary. In Cincinnati, Harriet met reformers and abolitionists and in 1833 published her first book,…
It’s Women’s History month, so we decided to put together Lavinia Goodell’s resume and ask a few employers if they would hire someone like her. They all found her credentials impressive. One said she would definitely hire Lavinia as a lawyer, but her resume does not convey “team player.” Others wondered whether silk stocking law firms would be afraid to hire her. She could repel clients who don’t share her values. She might be better off as a sole practitioner tackling social justice issues. For Lavinia’s full resume, click here. Just think of it. The woman who opened the Wisconsin…
“We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man.” Margaret Fuller, 1845 Although Margaret Fuller may not widely known today, in the mid-nineteenth century she was a well known teacher, editor, and essayist whose best known book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, examined the place of women within society. Lavinia Goodell admired Margaret Fuller’s works and spent countless hours reading them in order to prepare a paper that she delivered at a December 1877 meeting of Janesville, Wisconsin’s literary society, the Mutual Improvement Club. Margaret Fuller Margaret Fuller was born in…
“I have been deeply interested in Dr. Zak’s book.” Lavinia Goodell, February 25, 1861  Lavinia Goodell was a voracious reader and had eclectic tastes. In addition to reading the popular fiction of the day, she was also very interested in medical and scientific topics. For a time she had a roommate, Nancie Monelle, who was studying medicine, and her lifelong friend Mary Ann Wattles was also a physician. One of the pioneering woman physicians in the United States was Marie E. Zakrewska. Not only did Lavinia eagerly read the doctor’s autobiography, she and Zakrewska shared a close mutual friend,…
“Mary Booth is as good a friend as ever.” Lavinia Goodell, April 26, 1866  When Lavinia Goodell went to work for the newly minted Harper’s Bazar magazine in 1867 (read about her experiences here and here), she worked with and shared an office with Bazar’s editor, Mary Louise Booth, one of the best known andContinue reading → The post “Mary Booth is as good a friend as ever.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“The part assigned to women by nature is inconsistent with the practice of law.” In re Dorsett, Minnesota Court of Common Pleas, October 1876 Martha Angle Dorsett was the first woman admitted to practice law in Minnesota. Ms. Dorsett was born in New York in 1851. After earning a bachelor of philosophy degree from theContinue reading → The post “The part assigned to women by nature is inconsistent with the practice of law.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Lavinia Goodell, November 21, 1869 In 1869, in an effort to improve her German language skills, Lavinia Goodell moved from her aunt and uncle’s home in Brooklyn into an upper room of a home on East 23rd Street in Manhattan owned by a German doctor. For a time she had a roommate who was a medical student at the Woman’s Medical College and Infirmary, an institution recently opened by sisters Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell. Lavinia found Nancie Monelle very companionable, although they had divergent interests. Lavinia wrote to her sister: My new chum is quite a character. She is short,…
History is a story with many voices that we tell together. The Wisconsin Historical Society was founded in 1846, two years before Wisconsin became a state. Lavinia Goodell, who in 1874 would go on to become Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer,  was then a seven year old girl living in New York state. In 2021, theContinue reading → The post History is a story with many voices that we tell together appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“Judge Conger will stand by me.” Lavinia Goodell, December 20, 1875 When Lavinia Goodell became the first Wisconsin woman admitted to practice law in June of 1874, she could credit her accomplishment on her studiousness and tenacity, but if Circuit Judge Harmon S. Conger had refused to allow her to take the examination given toContinue reading → The post “Judge Conger will stand by me.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
That easily could have been the headline of the June 2, 1877, Janesville Gazette. Max St. Bar was an inmate at the Rock County Jail and one of many students in Lavinia’s jail school. She immediately noticed his intelligence and elocution. In her relentless effort to prove that prisoners often have good qualities and are worthy of mentoring, Lavinia persuaded the sheriff to release St. Bar for a bit so that he could recite poetry to her Mutual Improvement Club. Lavinia’s article about Max St. Bar Professor Jenk L. Jones, pastor of the Unitarian Church, and his wife launched the…