“Behold the beautiful city of Madison, welcoming a body of women who come to deliberate on great questions.”

“Behold the beautiful city of Madison, welcoming a body of women who come to deliberate on great questions.”

Lucy Stone, Woman’;s Journal, October 25, 1879

The Woman’s Journal, the women’s rights weekly paper founded by prominent suffragist Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, devoted significant space in three consecutive issues to cover the October 1879 Women’s Congress held in Madison. Lucy Stone wrote:

The existence of the Women’s Congress and the treatment it receives makes an epoch in the history of women…. Today behold the beautiful city of Madison, the capital of the great State of Wisconsin, welcoming to its legislative hall a body of women who come to deliberate on great questions. They sit with crowded sessions; their right to do so recognized; fair and appreciative reports of what they do are given to the real public which does not raise a question of propriety even, and their words are heeded. So much is settled. Who shall grow weary or doubt the final result for women, when so great changes are wrought in so short a time.

After reading her paper on penal legislation on Wednesday, October 8, Lavinia Goodell could relax a bit and enjoy the rest of the Congress. On Thursday, October 9, she wrote in her diary, “A grand day full of good things.” The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Lavinia gave comments at a session titled Women, in Business. Lavinia “wised to assure young ladies who had ambition to enter the legal profession, that there was no danger that there will be any lack of cases in court. It is a mistake to think that the chief work of a lawyer is in making speeches in court. The best paying work is of a different character. Don’t be discouraged, but come on.” In the evening Lavinia attended a reception hosted by Governor William Smith and his wife.

On Friday, October 10, after “a busy, pleasant day at the Congress, Lavinia attended a reception at the home of Senator and Mrs. Joseph Thorp. (The house still stands, at 130 East Gilman Street, Madison. From 1885 until 1950 the home served as Wisconsin’s governor’s mansion. Today it is a boutique hotel.

Photo of Wisconsin's Governor's Mansion in 1879
Senator Thorp’s home, now Governor’s Mansion Inn & Cafe

Senator Thorp was a wealthy lumber baron. His daughter, Sara, was married to the famous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull.

Photo of Ole Bull
Ole Bull

Mr. Bull treated his in-laws’ guests to a violin performance. The Wisconsin State Journal reported:

Here in the spacious and noble drawing room, recently refitted in exquisite taste, the ladies were hospitably welcomed by Mrs. Thorp and her son. Not far away the Apollo-like form of Mr. Ole Bull lifted his massive head and noble face above the crowd, where he and his accomplished wife gave their hearty welcome to the guests…. Ole Bull held them spellbound with his “Sicilian, Tarantelle,” his wife admirably accompanying him at the piano….

Before the company dispersed, Mrs. President Doggett, on behalf of the Congress, … thanked the kind host and hostess for this delightful reception in their charming home. She thanked Mr. and Mrs. Ole Bull for the music that had thrilled their hearts with holy memories of the past, and high aspirations for the future, and she declared that they had had such a good time in Madison they were almost ready to say they wanted to come again next year.

After a little farther exchange of friendly salutations, the large company slowly dispersed, while on every lip was the word, “What a delightful evening!”

On Saturday, October 11, Lavinia joined other delegates and friends on an excursion train that took them to Kilbourn City (now known as Wisconsin Dells). On arrival, the party boarded a steamer and visited the Dells’ attractions. Lavinia reported, “Splendid scenery, and a pleasant but fatiguing time.”

On Monday, October 13, Lavinia took the train back to Janesville.  Her diary entry read, Home again. Seems real good and wish I hadn’t got to go off. Came back with a lot of Congress women and had splendid journey. “

A month later, her health failing, Lavinia abruptly moved to Madison. Although we have no definitive record of when or why she made the move, it is possible that the week she spent at the Women’s Congress played a part in her decision. Her diary entries mention that during her October visit she spent time with “the Misses Bright,” who lived on Carroll Street. (She first reported meeting a Miss Bright during an August visit to Madison.) When she relocated to Madison in November, the first people she spent time with were the Misses Bright. Perhaps while attending the Women’s Congress Lavinia heeded Lucy Stone’s advice to “deliberate on great questions” and decided to make a significant life change. NK

Sources consulted: Annual Report of the Association for the Advancement of Women (1880); Woman’s Journal, October 25, 1879; Wisconsin State Journal; Lavinia Goodell’s diaries.

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“The well known Janesville lady lawyer read an interesting paper.”

“The well known Janesville lady lawyer read an interesting paper.”

Wisconsin State Journal, October 9, 1879

The American Women’s Association Congress was held in the state capitol building in Madison in October 1879. Seventy-five women from around the country attended.

Image of Wisconsin's capitol in the 1870s
Wisconsin capitol c. 1870s

The 1880 Annual Report of the Association for the Advancement of Women said:

Through the action of the local committee, the fine and spacious assembly room of the capitol was placed at our disposal, and the ladies of Madison decorated it with flowers and smilax, a rare innovation in a state capital.

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“This congress ought to be attended by every intelligent woman in the state.”

“This congress ought to be attended by every intelligent woman in the state.”

Janesville Gazette, October 3, 1879

In October of 1879, less than six months before her death, Lavinia Goodell attended the American Women’s Association congress in Madison.

Image of announcement of 7th Annual Women's Congress in Madison, Wisconsin
Wisconsin State Journal, October 7, 1879

According to the Wisconsin State Journal:

The aim of the congress is to render women more helpful to each other, and more useful to society. It desires to bring together, in friendly counsel, women of diverse experience – the educator, the philanthropist, the house-keeper, the scientist – that from the little candle each has lighted at the daily altar, where her daily service has been offered, a flame may be kindled which shall send light into the dark corners, where, in spite of our boasted civilization, sin, misery and ignorance still lurk.

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“Woman is man’s equal.”

“Woman is man’s equal.”

Declaration of Sentiments issued at Seneca Falls, New York, July 1848

“The equal right of Woman to social, civil and political equality, has always been to me like an axiom which it were as idle to dispute as to undertake to controvert the multiplication table.” – Lavinia Goodell, 1875

On July 19, 1848, the first woman’s rights convention held in the United States convened in Seneca Falls, New York.

The event was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a distant cousin of Lavinia Goodell’s mother, and Lucretia Mott. The women had met at an anti-slavery convention in London eight years earlier. Stanton and Mott were barred from the convention floor because of their gender, and their indignation formed the seeds of the women’s rights movement in America.

Seneca Falls Convention, 1848
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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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“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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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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“I am dying to see a sensible woman. And they don’t abound here.”

“I am dying to see a sensible woman. And they don’t abound here.”

In June 1919, Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. In celebration of this great achievement many have repeated an enchanting origin story of Wisconsin’s women’s suffrage movement published in The Milwaukee Journal on December 21, 1924:

Way down in the southwestern corner of Wisconsin, the little town of Richland Center has been glorified above all towns in the state in that it is the cradle of women’s suffrage in Wisconsin.

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