“My only regret was that we didn’t take her there sooner.”

“My only regret was that we didn’t take her there sooner.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 19, 1878

In early July 1877, Lavinia Goodell committed her mother to the Wisconsin State Hospital for the Insane. The institution, now known as Mendota Mental Health Institute, is located on Lake Mendota, on the north side of Madison.

Lavinia’s July 3, 1877 diary entry read, “Went up to asylum and after various tribulations took leave of mother and started homeward.”

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“A dreadful time with Mother”

“A dreadful time with Mother”

Lavinia Goodell, January 18, 1877

Lavinia Goodell’s mother’s mental health steadily declined during 1876. Lavinia’s cousin, Sarah Thomas, travelled to Janesville in late December to help Lavinia care for Clarissa.

Clarissa Goodell
Clarissa Goodell

Sarah had no sooner arrived than Clarissa’s condition worsened. Lavinia’s diary entries for January 1877 were a litany of depressing news: “A terrible time with mother.” “A bad time with mother again.” “Sarah reported on hard day with mother. I am in despair about her. Father nervous. Trouble all around.”

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“Mother gets worse and worse”

“Mother gets worse and worse”

Lavinia Goodell, November 4, 1876

Lavinia Goodell was away from Janesville for much of the summer of 1876. She left on June 3 and didn’t return until August 4. She was a delegate and speaker at the International Temperance Conference in Philadelphia and she and her cousin, Sarah Thomas, attended the Centennial International Exhibition in that city. Lavinia’s certificate of admission to the Rock County bar and her briefs arguing for her admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court were on display. (Learn more about Lavinia’s experiences here.) It was also during this summer that Lavinia learned she was seriously ill.

By late September 1876, in addition to coping with her law practice and her own illness Lavinia was faced with the harsh reality that her mother’s mental health was rapidly deteriorating. (Read more about Clarissa Goodell here.)

Photp of Clarissa Goodell, mother of Lavinia Goodell, wisconsin's 1st woman lawyer.
Clarissa Goodell
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“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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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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