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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

“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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“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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“Miss Eveleth & Carrie Jocelyn are off for Beaufort, S.C. to teach the contrabands.”

“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 Lavinia’s friends from Brooklyn, traveled to Hilton Head island off the coast of Beaufort, South Carolina, to teach at two Freedmen’s schools. The schools were run under the auspices of the American Missionary Association.

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“If I have any model in fiction, it is Mrs. Stowe.”

“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, Primary Geography. In 1836 she married Calvin Stowe, a professor at Lane Seminary. Calvin encouraged Harriet’s writing. Harriet wrote many articles and thirty books.

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Would you hire this woman?

Would you hire this woman?

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 legal profession to women 150 years ago might have a hard time landing a job today!

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“We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man.”

“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.

Photo of Margaret Fuller
Margaret Fuller

Margaret Fuller was born in Massachusetts in 1810. A precocious child, her father, a lawyer, oversaw her education, providing his daughter with tutors in Latin, philosophy, history, science,  literature, and German. After her father’s death in 1835, the family found itself quite poor, and Margaret went to Boston as a teacher. She taught in Bronson Alcott’s school and offered classes for young ladies. She became a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists. Few would accuse her of being overly modest. It was while dining at Emerson’s home that Margaret uttered what is probably her best remembered remark: “I now know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no intellect comparable with my own.”

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