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We are delighted to illuminate the important work of Lavinia Goodell. This blog shares significant moments in Lavinia’s life and excerpts from her personal papers. You may browse the posts or use the Table of Contents to find posts that interest you. Please subscribe and help spread the word about Wisconsin's first woman lawyer.

This website is a wonderful tribute to Lavinia Goodell

This website is a wonderful tribute to Lavinia Goodell

Former Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Shirley Abrahamson

“In the 1870’s Lavinia Goodell became the first woman admitted to the Wisconsin state bar and then fought an epic battle for the right to practice before that state’s highest court. One century later I was sworn in as Wisconsin’s first woman Supreme Court Justice. Throughout my career in the law I worked hard to open doors for others, just as Lavinia opened the doors to the courtroom where I proudly sat for more than four decades, and presided as Chief Justice for more than 18 years. Lavinia resides in the pantheon of Wisconsin heroes. This website is a wonderful and loving tribute to this remarkable person. I urge everyone to scroll through these pages and find inspiration. Forward!”Former Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, March 2, 2020

Posted by admin in Press about Lavinia's biography, Wisconsin Supreme Court battles, 2 comments

“Am glad Bennett is to take the case with me.”

“Am glad Bennett is to take the case with me.”

Lavinia Goodell, January 27, 1875

The case that spawned Lavinia Goodell’s epic battle for admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court was Tyler v. Burrington. In November of 1874, Lavinia was retained by Lydia Burrington, a doctor’s widow who had been sued by a young woman whom the Burringtons had taken in ten years earlier and treated as a family member. The young woman claimed she had been treated as a servant and that Dr. Burrington had told her he intended to pay her for her work. Lavinia could tell that the case was likely to be a tough one, and she had only been practicing law for five months, so she looked for someone who would assist her. After Pliny Norcross turned her down, she turned to John R. Bennett.

Bennett initially said he could not help Lavinia either, but by January 1875, to Lavinia’s relief, he changed his mind.

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“Mr. Sloan read my argument. Judge Ryan mad as a bull.”

“Mr. Sloan read my argument. Judge Ryan mad as a bull.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 14, 1875

When Lavinia Goodell applied for admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court bar in 1875, she was not allowed to present the motion to the court herself. Instead, her argument was read by Assistant Attorney General I.C. Sloan. Along with J.B. Cassoday, Sloan, a former Janesville attorney, was one of the people who made Lavinia’s admission to the Supreme Court bar possible.

I. C. Sloan
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Posted by admin in Legal practice, 0 comments

“Lawyer Cassoday calls me his sister in law.”

“Lawyer Cassoday calls me his sister in law.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 30, 1874

One of Lavinia Goodell’s staunchest allies during her legal career was John Bolivar Cassoday. He offered her advice on cases, allowed her to use his extensive law library, and as a member of the Wisconsin legislature, introduced the bill that decreed that no person could be denied a license to practice law on account of sex, thus allowing Lavinia to be admitted to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court

John Bolivar Cassoday
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Posted by admin in Legal practice, Proposed legislation, 0 comments

“Am glad you like the photo.”

“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, saying “The photograph is done & I have ordered it mailed to you today, from the photographer, as they can pack it best.”

Although we have no have no way to know for certain, because the photograph bears no identifying mark, we think there is a good chance that this is the photo:

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Posted by admin in Harper's Bazar years, 0 comments

“I suppose you had to give your real name to the publishers.”

“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.

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Posted by admin in Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 0 comments

“I like my father and Mr. Jocelyn better than any other men.”

“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
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Posted by admin in Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 0 comments

“I have a tremendous large school. 92 names on my day school list.”

“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 father. Holley attended Oberlin College in Ohio, the first predominantly white college to admit Black male students (in 1835) and two years later the first college in the country to admit women. At Oberlin, Holley met Caroline Putnam. In later years Putnam described them as “the only two ultra radicals there.”

Sallie Holley and Caroline Putnam
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Posted by admin in Friends, 1 comment

“Got a telegram from Lucy Stone that her suffrage convention was to be here”

“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 Woman’s Journal, in December 1879 she was formally listed on its masthead as a contributor.

Photo of Lucy Stone
Lucy Stone

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