“Mrs. Guernsey is a … woman’s rights woman.”

“Mrs. Guernsey is a … woman’s rights woman.”

Lavinia Goodell, August 18, 1873

In addition to her good friend Mrs. Beale, Lavinia Goodell counted on Mrs. Orrin Guernsey to advance the cause of temperance and, to a lesser extent, women’s rights.

(Stock photo. Does not depict the members of Janesville’s LTU)

Sarah Cooley Guernsey was born in New Hampshire in 1821. At age seventeen she married Orrin Guernsey and in 1843 the couple and their children moved to Janesville. The Guernseys featured prominently in Janesville society. Mr. Guernsey was  twice elected to the Wisconsin legislature. In the 1860s, President Johnson appointed him a member of a commission that concluded treaties with the Sioux Indians. He served on the Janesville city council; was a member of the board of the directors for the institution for the blind; served on the board of the Madison Mutual Insurance Company; and was a founder of the Rock County Agricultural Society.

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Lavinia at the 1876 Centennial Celebration

Lavinia at the 1876 Centennial Celebration

From May to November 1876, Philadelphia hosted the first official World’s Fair in the United States. Called the “Centennial International Exhibition of 1876,” the event celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Lavinia not only attended it, her certificate of admission to the Rock County Circuit Court bar and her briefs arguing for admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court were, according to her sister, among the “curiosities” on display there.

The Centennial international Exhibition

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Lavinia Goodell’s Bid to Become Janesville City Attorney

Lavinia Goodell’s Bid to Become Janesville City Attorney

Long before anyone asked whether women are “electable,” Lavinia Goodell threw her hat in the ring. This week CUNY professor Jill Norgren, and Swarthmore College Professor Wendy Chmielewski guest post on one of Lavinia’s little known, impressive firsts–1st American woman to run for city attorney. Professors Norgren and Chmielewski co-founded HerHatWasinthe ring.org, a timely digital project about women who ran for office before 1920. Norgren wrote Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would be President, a fascinating biography about one of Lavinia’s “sisters in law.

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“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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Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, Temperance, 3 comments

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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