“Behold the beautiful city of Madison, welcoming a body of women who come to deliberate on great questions.”

“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 October 1879 Women’s Congress held in Madison. Lucy Stone wrote:

The existence of the Women’s Congress and the treatment it receives makes an epoch in the history of women…. Today behold the beautiful city of Madison, the capital of the great State of Wisconsin, welcoming to its legislative hall a body of women who come to deliberate on great questions. They sit with crowded sessions; their right to do so recognized; fair and appreciative reports of what they do are given to the real public which does not raise a question of propriety even, and their words are heeded. So much is settled. Who shall grow weary or doubt the final result for women, when so great changes are wrought in so short a time.

After reading her paper on penal legislation on Wednesday, October 8, Lavinia Goodell could relax a bit and enjoy the rest of the Congress. On Thursday, October 9, she wrote in her diary, “A grand day full of good things.” The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Lavinia gave comments at a session titled Women, in Business. Lavinia “wised to assure young ladies who had ambition to enter the legal profession, that there was no danger that there will be any lack of cases in court. It is a mistake to think that the chief work of a lawyer is in making speeches in court. The best paying work is of a different character. Don’t be discouraged, but come on.” In the evening Lavinia attended a reception hosted by Governor William Smith and his wife.

On Friday, October 10, after “a busy, pleasant day at the Congress, Lavinia attended a reception at the home of Senator and Mrs. Joseph Thorp. (The house still stands, at 130 East Gilman Street, Madison. From 1885 until 1950 the home served as Wisconsin’s governor’s mansion. Today it is a boutique hotel.

Photo of Wisconsin's Governor's Mansion in 1879
Senator Thorp’s home, now Governor’s Mansion Inn & Cafe

Senator Thorp was a wealthy lumber baron. His daughter, Sara, was married to the famous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull.

Photo of Ole Bull
Ole Bull

Mr. Bull treated his in-laws’ guests to a violin performance. The Wisconsin State Journal reported:

Here in the spacious and noble drawing room, recently refitted in exquisite taste, the ladies were hospitably welcomed by Mrs. Thorp and her son. Not far away the Apollo-like form of Mr. Ole Bull lifted his massive head and noble face above the crowd, where he and his accomplished wife gave their hearty welcome to the guests…. Ole Bull held them spellbound with his “Sicilian, Tarantelle,” his wife admirably accompanying him at the piano….

Before the company dispersed, Mrs. President Doggett, on behalf of the Congress, … thanked the kind host and hostess for this delightful reception in their charming home. She thanked Mr. and Mrs. Ole Bull for the music that had thrilled their hearts with holy memories of the past, and high aspirations for the future, and she declared that they had had such a good time in Madison they were almost ready to say they wanted to come again next year.

After a little farther exchange of friendly salutations, the large company slowly dispersed, while on every lip was the word, “What a delightful evening!”

On Saturday, October 11, Lavinia joined other delegates and friends on an excursion train that took them to Kilbourn City (now known as Wisconsin Dells). On arrival, the party boarded a steamer and visited the Dells’ attractions. Lavinia reported, “Splendid scenery, and a pleasant but fatiguing time.”

On Monday, October 13, Lavinia took the train back to Janesville.  Her diary entry read, Home again. Seems real good and wish I hadn’t got to go off. Came back with a lot of Congress women and had splendid journey. “

A month later, her health failing, Lavinia abruptly moved to Madison. Although we have no definitive record of when or why she made the move, it is possible that the week she spent at the Women’s Congress played a part in her decision. Her diary entries mention that during her October visit she spent time with “the Misses Bright,” who lived on Carroll Street. (She first reported meeting a Miss Bright during an August visit to Madison.) When she relocated to Madison in November, the first people she spent time with were the Misses Bright. Perhaps while attending the Women’s Congress Lavinia heeded Lucy Stone’s advice to “deliberate on great questions” and decided to make a significant life change. NK

Sources consulted: Annual Report of the Association for the Advancement of Women (1880); Woman’s Journal, October 25, 1879; Wisconsin State Journal; Lavinia Goodell’s diaries.

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“The well known Janesville lady lawyer read an interesting paper.”

“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.

Image of Wisconsin's capitol in the 1870s
Wisconsin capitol c. 1870s

The 1880 Annual Report of the Association for the Advancement of Women said:

Through the action of the local committee, the fine and spacious assembly room of the capitol was placed at our disposal, and the ladies of Madison decorated it with flowers and smilax, a rare innovation in a state capital.

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“This congress ought to be attended by every intelligent woman in the state.”

“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.

Image of announcement of 7th Annual Women's Congress in Madison, Wisconsin
Wisconsin State Journal, October 7, 1879

According to the Wisconsin State Journal:

The aim of the congress is to render women more helpful to each other, and more useful to society. It desires to bring together, in friendly counsel, women of diverse experience – the educator, the philanthropist, the house-keeper, the scientist – that from the little candle each has lighted at the daily altar, where her daily service has been offered, a flame may be kindled which shall send light into the dark corners, where, in spite of our boasted civilization, sin, misery and ignorance still lurk.

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“Miss Lavinia Goodell & Miss Angie King have formed a partnership for the practice of law.”

“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 with Lavinia Goodell, she was also active in Janesville’s two literary societies, the Mutual Improvement Club and the Round Table. (Read more about the two clubs here.)

On January 10, 1879, Lavinia was present at the Rock County Courthouse when Angie and two men were examined for admission to the bar. While Lavinia found out that she passed her examination the same day it was given, Angie and the two male scholars had to wait three days to learn their fate. The Janesville Gazette reported, all three passed and “are now recognized as regular practicing attorneys.”

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Lavinia’s jail school

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 people chose to have it so, and would give a very little thought to the subject.” For the last four years of her life, while her elderly parents were failing and she was suffering a fatal illness, Lavinia poured herself into reforming criminals.

This is a December 5, 1877 Janesville Gazette article about the Row Boat, a paper written by prisoners who attended Lavinia’s jail school.

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“These high-minded, noble animals of the superior sex were willing to stoop to the dirtiest work”

“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. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, published this article in its May 8, 1869 issue. (The actual column may be seen here.)

A good deal is being said in the papers just now about Miss Angie King, and a struggle for the Janesville, Wis., post-office. It seems that Miss King applied for the position, and was backed by a majority of the citizens of the place, who wished her to occupy it. When she reached Washington she found half a dozen lazy, hungry men seeking for the place, and leaving no stone unturned to get it.

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“The contest for the post office is growing hotter every day.”

“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 chronicled here. The third woman admitted to practice law in Wisconsin was also from Janesville and enjoyed a close relationship with Lavinia.

Angie King

Angela Josephine King was born in Ohio in 1845. Her family moved to Janesville when she was an infant. In 1867 she graduated from the Janesville Ladies’ Seminary, which encouraged independence of thought in its young ladies in addition to stressing culture, refinement, and high moral character.

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“We are here to study literature.”

“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 was home to two literary societies, and, not surprisingly, Lavinia was active in both.

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Posted by admin in Reading interests, Societies/clubs, 0 comments