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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