“What shall we do with our criminals?”

“What shall we do with our criminals?”

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.

A drunk tramp with a pocket watch.

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Posted by admin in Jail school/prison reform, Legal practice, 2 comments

“Woman is man’s equal.”

“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 July 19, 1848, the first woman’s rights convention held in the United States convened in Seneca Falls, New York.

The event was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a distant cousin of Lavinia Goodell’s mother, and Lucretia Mott. The women had met at an anti-slavery convention in London eight years earlier. Stanton and Mott were barred from the convention floor because of their gender, and their indignation formed the seeds of the women’s rights movement in America.

Seneca Falls Convention, 1848
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Posted by admin in Women's rights, 1 comment

Lavinia at the 1876 Centennial Celebration

Lavinia at the 1876 Centennial Celebration

From May to November 1876, Philadelphia hosted the first official World’s Fair in the United States. Called the “Centennial International Exhibition of 1876,” the event celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Lavinia not only attended it, her certificate of admission to the Rock County Circuit Court bar and her briefs arguing for admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court were, according to her sister, among the “curiosities” on display there.

The Centennial international Exhibition

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Posted by admin in Temperance, Women's rights, 0 comments

“What a good father we have!”

“What a good father we have!”

–Lavinia Goodell, March 10, 1864

Lavinia Goodell and her father, William, shared a close relationship founded on mutual respect. William was 47 years old when Lavinia was born in 1839. His wife was 42. (Read about Lavinia’s birth here.) Their only other living child, Maria, was 12 and soon went off to school and then married, so for much of her youth Lavinia was the only child in the home.

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Posted by admin in Principia years, Growing Up: 1839-1859, Family, 2 comments

A young, lady lawyer wins with her looks; an old one needs a strong case.

A young, lady lawyer wins with her looks; an old one needs a strong case.

The young and lovely Elle Woods from Legal Blonde

Pretty, young, female lawyers are fascinating to watch in court, and “they might occasionally get away with a verdict from a susceptible jury.” But they cannot achieve the same level of success as a young male lawyer. By the time a female lawyer gains sufficient experience to compete with her male counterpart she will  be old and ugly. Her powers of persuasion lie in the strength of her case. That’s the thesis of an article called “Female Lawyers,” which appeared along with closeups about Lavinia Goodell and Kate Kane (Wisconsin’s first two women lawyers) in the March 16, 1879 Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph. The article is reprinted below in full.

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Posted by admin in Legal practice, 1 comment

Blue Glass, Phrenology & Blood Food: 19th Century Health Crazes

Blue Glass, Phrenology & Blood Food: 19th Century Health Crazes

As researchers rush to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the pandemic has spawned a bevy of supposed miracle cures. People desperate for any glimmer of hope rush  to try the magic elixirs and when they fail to produce the anticipated result, the users abandon them and move on to the next new thing. It has always been thus.

In early 1877, when Lavinia Goodell was weighing various options for the treatment of her ovarian tumor and her mother’s dementia was making life in the Goodell household increasingly difficult, Lavinia turned to a health craze that was sweeping the nation: blue glass.

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Posted by admin in Illness, 0 comments

A Close Up of Lavinia’s Law Practice

A Close Up of Lavinia’s Law Practice

Today’s post plus two new tabs on the navigation menu provide a rare glimpse of what it was like to be Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer. The “Court Cases” page features 5 of Lavinia Goodell’s clients and cases along with recently unearthed pleadings from her court files.  The “Supreme Court Battle” page chronicles the dramatic series of events from her first failed motion for admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, to her legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in the practice of law, to her deathbed victory in Ingalls v. State, proving that women could argue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and win there too.  But first, a little about Lavinia’s law practice.

Notice of deposition for Leavneworth v. Leavenworth
Notice of Deposition for Leavenworth v. Leavenworth, Lavinia’s big divorce case

For most of her legal career, Lavinia was a sole practitioner. She drafted deeds and wills, filed collection actions, and litigated contract, divorce and criminal cases. In November 1877, she wrote about her practice in “A Day in the Life of a Woman Lawyer,” a description that may sound comically familiar to lawyers today. For example, she began her illustrative workday short  on sleep due to tossing and turning over a case that she expected to lose because her opposing counsel was the judge’s friend and valuable political ally.

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Posted by admin in Legal practice, 0 comments

“The one element lacking in our government is women.”

“The one element lacking in our government is women.”

–Lavinia Goodell, October 1878

 Lavinia Goodell was a lifelong proponent of women’s suffrage. She said she could not remember a time when she did not believe women should have the right to vote.     

Lavinia frequently wrote and spoke on the suffrage question. Some of her writings may be found here. In October of 1878, she gave a one hour speech at a gathering of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association  in Providence, Rhode Island. Although we have not found a manuscript of Lavinia’s full remarks, the Providence Journal ran a lengthy article praising the speech:

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Posted by admin in Speeches, Women's rights, 0 comments