“We are marching on.”

“We are marching on.”

Lavinia Goodell, Janesville, Wisconsin, 1873

Do you think women’s marches are a 21st century phenomenon? Far from it. In the summer of 1873, Lavinia Goodell, secretary of Janesville’s newly formed Ladies Temperance Union, helped organize a march to city hall to protest the granting of liquor licenses.

Plans for the march began at a mass meeting at the Janesville opera house. According to an ad Lavinia composed and delivered to the Janesville Gazette, the purpose of the meeting was:

To consider the duties of the hour. This is not a movement of sect or party, but an earnest effort of all the ladies to stay the tide of intemperance in our midst. Let every earnest woman come.

Ad in the Janesville Gazette which begins Mass Meeting! of the Ladies of Janesville.
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Spinsterhood: the fate of an unattractive woman or a radical act?

Spinsterhood: the fate of an unattractive woman or a radical act?

Have you seen the Little Women movie? The new ending would have incited Lavinia Goodell to dash off an op-ed for the Woman’s Journal.

Jo March negotiating with her editor in Greta Gerwig's 2019 adaptation of Little Women
Jo March negotiating with her editor, Little Women (2019)

Greta Gerwig has Jo March telling an editor that her heroine was adamantly opposed marriage, so the novel would not end with her wedding either Laurie or Professor Bhaer. The editor shot back: “Who cares! Girls want to see women married, not consistent. If you end your delightful book with your heroine a spinster, no one will buy it. It won’t be worth printing.” For Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer, “them’s fightin’ words!”

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Preaching temperance on New Years?!

Preaching temperance on New Year’s Day?!

Lavinia, a temperance advocate, hailed from New York where the tradition was to hold an open house for family and friends on New Year’s Day. In 1870, she welcomed the New Year with the German family who had just tried to get her tipsy on Christmas. Four years later, she celebrated in Janesville, Wisconsin surrounded by kindred spirits. On both holidays she preached temperance to the revelers. Her letters describe the results of her efforts.

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“My admission has created quite a little sensation here”

“My admission has created quite a little sensation here”

In 1874, a woman’s place was in the home. Most people (male and female) firmly believed that women shouldn’t even be allowed to vote.  By this point, only a few had taken a bar exam or received a law degree.  So Lavinia’s admission to the Rock County Circuit Court was truly extraordinary. She became a celebrity in Janesville, and the national press noticed. She also reportedly raised the bar for bar examinations!

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Lavinia passes the bar: “[T]he judge proceeded to question us in quite an alarming manner”

Lavinia passes the bar: “[T]he judge proceeded to question us in quite an alarming manner”

Today, in most states, the bar exam involves an 8-week prep course and several days of written tests, which are administered at set times each year. In 1874, the experience was quite different—especially for Lavinia Goodell, the first woman admitted to the bar in Wisconsin.

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“Law offices, suffering for want of students to help, … and yet they would not let me in, because I was a woman.”

“Law offices, suffering for want of students to help, … and yet they would not let me in, because I was a woman.”

— Lavinia Goodell, 1873

It is a common misconception that Belle Case LaFollette, wife of Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Fighting Bob LaFollette, was Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer. While Belle was the first woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law school in 1885 — five years after Lavinia’s death —  Lavinia became the state’s first woman attorney in 1874 after studying the law on her own for over two years and then passing an examination in the Rock County Circuit Court. Entering the profession without going to law school was quite common at the time. Many of Lavinia’s sisters in law followed the same path.

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“The Gazette has a new notice of me, and I fear I am getting puffed up.”

“The Gazette has a new notice of me, and I fear I am getting puffed up.”

–Lavinia Goodell, August 6, 1874

A huge thank you to Anna Marie Lux for writing  and the Janesville Gazette for publishing an in-depth account of Lavinia’s digital biography and the research behind it. Lavinia would no doubt be very pleased to know that nearly 140 years after her death her hometown newspaper still finds her newsworthy. Read the article here.

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Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, Press about Lavinia's biography, 0 comments

Thanksgiving in jail

Thanksgiving in jail

 Lavinia Goodell’s Thanksgiving celebrations in the 1860s and 1870s bear at least some resemblance to today’s holiday festivities. The day often began with a religious service. Although Lavinia had a lifelong affiliation with the Congregational church,  she liked to explore other houses of worship as well.

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Posted by admin in Family, Jail school/prison reform, 0 comments