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.

Latest from Lavinia Goodell

“I have seen Niagara!” Lavinia Goodell, September 20, 1861 Although people tend to think of Lavinia Goodell as a very serious woman who devoted her life to working to advance causes such as women’s rights, temperance, and prison reform, she also had a much lighter side that is not well known. Lavinia had a delightfulContinue reading → The post “I have seen Niagara!” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“My only regret was that we didn’t take her there sooner.” Lavinia Goodell, June 19, 1878 In early July 1877, Lavinia Goodell committed her mother to the Wisconsin State Hospital for the Insane. The institution, now known as Mendota Mental Health Institute, is located on Lake Mendota, on the north side of Madison. Lavinia’s JulyContinue reading → The post “My only regret was that we didn’t take her there sooner.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“The boys tried to break out last night!” Lavinia Goodell, November 6, 1877 In the late 1870s, Lavinia Goodell was a frequent visitor to the Rock County jail, which was located on the Rock River, down the hill from the courthouse. After Judge Conger appointed her to represent a number of criminal defendants, Lavinia cameContinue reading → The post “The boys tried to break out last night!” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“A dreadful time with Mother” Lavinia Goodell, January 18, 1877 Lavinia Goodell’s mother’s mental health steadily declined during 1876. Lavinia’s cousin, Sarah Thomas, travelled to Janesville in late December to help Lavinia care for Clarissa. Sarah had no sooner arrived than Clarissa’s condition worsened. Lavinia’s diary entries for January 1877 were a litany of depressingContinue reading → The post “A dreadful time with Mother” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“Mother gets worse and worse” Lavinia Goodell, November 4, 1876 Lavinia Goodell was away from Janesville for much of the summer of 1876. She left on June 3 and didn’t return until August 4. She was a delegate and speaker at the International Temperance Conference in Philadelphia and she and her cousin, Sarah Thomas, attendedContinue reading → The post “Mother gets worse and worse” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“Behold the beautiful city of Madison, welcoming a body of women who come to deliberate on great questions.” Lucy Stone, Woman’;s Journal, October 25, 1879 The Woman’s Journal, the women’s rights weekly paper founded by prominent suffragist Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, devoted significant space in three consecutive issues to cover the OctoberContinue reading → The post “Behold the beautiful city of Madison, welcoming a body of women who come to deliberate on great questions.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“The well known Janesville lady lawyer read an interesting paper.” Wisconsin State Journal, October 9, 1879 The American Women’s Association Congress was held in the state capitol building in Madison in October 1879. Seventy-five women from around the country attended. The 1880 Annual Report of the Association for the Advancement of Women said: Through theContinue reading → The post “The well known Janesville lady lawyer read an interesting paper.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“This congress ought to be attended by every intelligent woman in the state.” Janesville Gazette, October 3, 1879 In October of 1879, less than six months before her death, Lavinia Goodell attended the American Women’s Association congress in Madison. According to the Wisconsin State Journal: The aim of the congress is to render women moreContinue reading → The post “This congress ought to be attended by every intelligent woman in the state.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“Miss Lavinia Goodell & Miss Angie King have formed a partnership for the practice of law.” Janesville Gazette, February 1, 1879 Angie King kept busy during the 1870s by working in her brother’s bookstore and caring for her blind sister. At the same time, she studied law in the office of A.A. Jackson.  Along withContinue reading → The post “Miss Lavinia Goodell & Miss Angie King have formed a partnership for the practice of law.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Lavinia’s jail school “I had no idea that criminals were so interesting,” Lavinia Goodell told her sister, Maria. “I believe I could run [the Rock County] jail, so as to turn out every man better than he came in. Jails and prisons could just as well be made schools of virtue as vice if peopleContinue reading → The post Lavinia’s jail school appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“These high-minded, noble animals of the superior sex were willing to stoop to the dirtiest work” The Revolution, May 8, 1869 Angie King’s unsuccessful 1869 battle to be appointed Janesville’s postmaster (after Janesville’s male Republican voters elected her to the position) garnered national media attention. The Revolution, the women’s rights newspaper founded by Susan B.Continue reading → The post “These high-minded, noble animals of the superior sex were willing to stoop to the dirtiest work” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“The contest for the post office is growing hotter every day.” Janesville Gazette, February 6, 1869 After Lavinia Goodell became Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer, she served as a mentor to other women looking to enter the legal profession. The life and career of Kate Kane, the second Wisconsin woman admitted to the bar, is chronicledContinue reading → The post “The contest for the post office is growing hotter every day.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“We are here to study literature.” Motto of the Round Table literary society, Janesville, Wisconsin Lavinia Goodell’s diaries and letters tell us that she was a voracious reader. She read contemporary authors (Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe), classics (Shakespeare),  and scientific works (Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”) 1870s Janesville, Wisconsin wasContinue reading → The post “We are here to study literature.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Reclaiming criminals: “My remedies will either kill or cure!” Lavinia was quite taken with James Tolan, her client accused of stealing a $23 watch. “I never had the confidence of a criminal before,” she told her sister.  “It was a very interesting experience.” Poor Tolan, an inmate of the Rock County jail, was literally aContinue reading → The post Reclaiming criminals: “My remedies will either kill or cure!” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
In the fall of 1875, Judge Harmon Conger—the same judge who admitted Lavinia to the Rock County bar—changed the course of her legal career. She was sitting in her office drafting a client’s will when a sheriff popped in to announce that the judge had just appointed her to defend two criminals. One, James Tolan, was charged with stealing a watch from someone. The other, Harrison Cramer, had allegedly stolen spoons, jackknives, and a black silk belt from a store. The appointments surprised Lavinia.  Continue reading → The post “What shall we do with our criminals?” appeared first on Lavinia
“Woman is man’s equal.” Declaration of Sentiments issued at Seneca Falls, New York, July 1848 “The equal right of Woman to social, civil and political equality, has always been to me like an axiom which it were as idle to dispute as to undertake to controvert the multiplication table.” – Lavinia Goodell, 1875 On JulyContinue reading → The post “Woman is man’s equal.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…