About Us

“The Superior masculine mind has a terror of being laughed at.”

-Lavinia Goodell, November 18, 1873

Quips like this one charmed Colleen Ball and Nancy Kopp into conceiving and writing Lavinia Goodell: The Private Life and Public Trials of Wisconsin’s First Woman Lawyer.

Colleen Ball

Colleen Ball

Colleen Ball is an appellate lawyer for the Wisconsin State Public Defender. She stumbled onto Chief Justice Edward Ryan’s misogynistic opinion denying women admission to practice in the Wisconsin Supreme Court while researching some obscure point as an associate at Reinhart Boerner Van Duren, S.C. in Milwaukee. Ryan’s jarring words stuck in her mind. Years later she asked her young daughters, who had just watched a Wisconsin Supreme Court argument, what they thought of the three female justices on the bench. Both offered entertaining observations but neither said: “Cool, mom! There are three women on the court.” Why would they? Most of the lawyers they knew were women. Colleen told them about Lavinia, and her story stuck in their minds. One daughter chose Lavinia Goodell for her National History Day project on the theme “Taking a Stand in History.” Colleen recently discovered her daughter’s box of sources stuffed in a closet and thought that Lavinia’s story had lots of potential.

Nancy Kopp

Nancy Kopp

Nancy Kopp is a Wisconsin Supreme Court Commissioner. She first learned of Lavinia Goodell in the late 1970s when she was working as a legal secretary for Attorney Tom Berg in Janesville. Back in those days, law firms stored a complete set of Wisconsin Reporters in their libraries. Nancy read Ryan’s 1876 opinion denying Lavinia admission to practice law based on her sex and was thoroughly disgusted. The story stuck in her mind. When Nancy returned to school at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she wrote a history paper on Lavinia Goodell and Angie King, who in 1879 formed Wisconsin’s first female law firm. Nancy made a trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society to do research and found herself engrossed in the Janesville Gazettes from the 1870s. She went to law school, pursued a legal career, but did not think a whole lot more about Lavinia until she lunched with Colleen. It quickly became clear that Nancy had missed her calling as a private detective. She tracked down Lavinia’s living relatives, who revealed the story behind her mistaken identity, and dug up all sorts of never-before-seen primary sources.

Sarah Stamps

Sarah Stamps

Sarah Stamps of Nashville, Tennessee, is Lavinia’s great grandniece. She and her father have donated many family papers to Berea College for inclusion in the William Goodell Family Collection, including a new batch in 2018, which offers fresh insights into Lavinia’s life. Sarah enjoyed a close relationship with her grandfather, William Goodell Frost, who was Lavinia’s beloved nephew “Willie.” Sarah invited Nancy and Colleen to lunch, explained how Lavinia’s identity became associated with a picture of an unknown woman, and shared other bits of family history that have been invaluable in the development of this digital biography. Sarah says, “I am most proud of the fact that Lavinia Goodell did not let defeat defeat her. She fought back and won!”

Beverly Wright

Beverly Wright

Beverly Wright of Bear, Delaware, is Lavinia’s great, great grandniece. She holds the Goodell family photo album and graciously shared the images in it with Colleen and Nancy. She also provided helpful background information about various Goodell family members. Beverly met Nancy in New York City and related more details about her ancestors. In July 2019, Beverly made a startling discovery. Buried in a box of family papers and folded in fours, lay the original certificate of admission that the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued to Lavinia Goodell in 1879. She just donated it to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Beverly is very proud of Lavinia and her family and says they were “truly public spirited people.”

Steve Bates

Steve Bates

Steve Bates of Columbia, South Carolina, is Lavinia’s great, great grandnephew. Steve met Nancy and Colleen at the Berea College Special Collections and Archives to go through the family papers. He also took them to the Goodell family grave in Berea where Lavinia and her parents, who all died in Janesville, Wisconsin, are now buried. Steve has done extensive research on the Goodell family. He says “Aunt Vinnie” has inspired him in many ways. He believes that if she were alive today, Lavinia would be a civil rights lawyer still advocating for prison reform and gender equality, as well as voting rights.