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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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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“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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No Peace for Courts and Legislatures!

No Peace for Courts and Legislatures!

In February 1875, Chief Justice Edward Ryan ruled that Lavinia Goodell could not argue cases to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The legal profession was no place for pure and delicate women, he reasoned. Lavinia wrote a lengthy rebuttal, which was published around the country. Ryan’s decision was so sexist that even 145 years ago, the press poked fun at him. One commentator  called him more tyrannical than Russia’s Czar!

Chief Justice Edward Ryan and Czar Alexander II
Chief Justice Edward Ryan and Czar Alexander II

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The death of Wisconsin’s 1st woman lawyer

The death of Wisconsin’s 1st woman lawyer

Rhoda Lavinia Goodell (May 2, 1839-March 31, 1880)

In the early morning hours of March 31, 1880, Lavinia Goodell died in Milwaukee. She was just a month shy of her 41st birthday. Lavinia had left Janesville in November of 1879 and moved to Madison, setting up her law practice there. She went to Milwaukee in January 1880 to seek treatment for her rapidly declining health at a Turkish bath establishment. When that treatment failed, she was taken to a private residence where she spent her final days. Her cousin Sarah Thomas was with her when she died of ovarian cancer. The Janesville Gazette wrote:

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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, 1 comment

The Chief Justice “was mad as a bull when he sees a red rag”

The Chief Justice “was mad as a bull when he sees a red rag”

Tyler v. Burrington, where a male jury defied a statute to find for a pretty young plaintiff, is the case that made Lavinia Goodell famous. After that painful loss, she vowed to appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. But first she had to gain admission to that court’s bar. Lavinia’s petition to argue before the Wisconsin Supreme Court led to a showdown with the fiery chauvinist, Chief Justice Edward G. Ryan.

Chief Justice Edward G. Ryan, Lavinia Goodell, Wisconsin's first woman lawyer
Chief Chauvinist Edward Ryan v. Wisconsin’s 1st woman lawyer.

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