fbpx

Welcome!
We are delighted to illuminate the important work of Lavinia Goodell. This blog shares significant moments in Lavinia’s life and excerpts from her personal papers. You may browse the posts or use the Table of Contents to find posts that interest you. Please subscribe and help spread the word about Wisconsin's first woman lawyer.

This website is a wonderful tribute to Lavinia Goodell

This website is a wonderful tribute to Lavinia Goodell

Former Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Shirley Abrahamson

“In the 1870’s Lavinia Goodell became the first woman admitted to the Wisconsin state bar and then fought an epic battle for the right to practice before that state’s highest court. One century later I was sworn in as Wisconsin’s first woman Supreme Court Justice. Throughout my career in the law I worked hard to open doors for others, just as Lavinia opened the doors to the courtroom where I proudly sat for more than four decades, and presided as Chief Justice for more than 18 years. Lavinia resides in the pantheon of Wisconsin heroes. This website is a wonderful and loving tribute to this remarkable person. I urge everyone to scroll through these pages and find inspiration. Forward!”Former Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, March 2, 2020

Posted by admin in Press about Lavinia's biography, Wisconsin Supreme Court battles, 2 comments

“The heavy, barred gates of the professions creak on their hinges.”

“The heavy, barred gates of the professions creak on their hinges.”

Lavinia Goodell, November 1875

In November of 1875, the seventh annual meeting of the American Woman Suffrage Association was held at Steinway Hall in New York. Over 200 delegates, both men and women, attended.

November 19, 1875 New York Daily Herald

 Lavinia Goodell was unable to attend, but she wrote a letter for the occasion, and her friend and mentor, Lucy Stone, chairman of the executive committee, read it to the group. The letter was published in the Woman’s Journal, Lucy Stone’s publication, in early December.

Photo of Lucy Stone
Lucy Stone

 Lucy Stone’s own address apparently caused a stir. The New York Daily Herald reported that it “was an exposition of what she considers the indecorum and absurdity of the Centennial celebration of independence by men who deny to one-half of the citizens of the United States the right of self-government, and urged all women to refuse to participate in the mockery.” A male delegate from Pennsylvania took issue with Lucy Stone on this issue and said while it was true that the Revolution did not enfranchise women, the new government was based upon principles which would naturally and inevitably lead to woman’s suffrage, so women should join in the Centennial celebration.

Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Women's rights, 0 comments

“Mr. Sale was District Attorney & made a very kind and gentlemanly opposing counsel.”

“Mr. Sale was District Attorney & made a very kind and gentlemanly opposing counsel.”

Lavinia Goodell, November 18, 1875

While practicing law in Janesville, Wisconsin in the 1870s, Lavinia Goodell had the good fortune to deal with other attorneys who were good practitioners and good citizens. John W. Sale was one of them.

John Sale was one year Lavinia’s junior, born in Indiana in 1840. His parents moved to Rock County when he was an infant. Sale attended the Evansville seminary, taught school for five years, then began to study law in the office of Harmon Conger, who was the circuit court judge who admitted Lavinia to the practice of law in 1874. Sale attended Michigan University and graduated from its law department. He returned to Janesville in the late 1860s and began to practice law. He had a number of partners, including John Bennett In the early 1870s he served as Janesville’s city attorney for several years. In 1874, he became Rock County’s district attorney, and it was in that professional capacity that Lavinia dealt with him.

Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Colleagues, Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, 0 comments

“I have proved my strong mindedness by climbing into the trees.”

“I have proved my strong mindedness by climbing into the trees.”

Lavinia Goodell, July 13, 1873

Because of global transportation, refrigeration, and food preservation methods, modern grocery shoppers have year round access to a virtually unlimited variety of food.  Lacking those conveniences, the fare available to people in the nineteenth century was often quite limited. Lavinia Goodell’s extensive correspondence with family members frequently recounted what they were eating, particularly when they were able to enjoy seasonal delicacies such as fresh fruit. Cherries were apparently one of Lavinia’s favorites.

In a letter to her cousin written in the summer of 1873, Lavinia described taking precious time away from her legal studies to pick cherries at the Goodells’ home on South Academy Street in Janesville:

Since I wrote you I have resumed my study which has been interrupted only by seasons of cherry picking in the mornings when I have proved my strong mindedness by climbing into the trees. Also getting out onto the roof to reach some of the branches. Have got all but a few which are beyond my reach but are visible and look provokingly tempting from my bedroom window.  

The image of a slender young woman in her mid-thirties, wearing a floor length dress and high top shoes, climbing trees or crawling out her bedroom window onto the roof in order to capture the ripe fruit is rather amusing.

Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, 1 comment

“Lewis has come, but no horse.”

“Lewis has come, but no horse.”

Maria Frost, July 12, 1854

Life in the mid eighteenth century was often both hard and unpredictable.

In the summer of 1853, fourteen-year-old Lavinia Goodell and her parents had recently moved to Brooklyn. Lavinia’s older sister and brother-in-law, Maria and Lewis Frost, lived in Bristol, New York, a town thirty miles southeast of Rochester. Lewis Frost was a Congregational preacher who, at that time, did not have his own church but rather filled in as needed at churches in the surrounding area.

In June 1853, Maria had written to Lavinia and her parents saying that she felt discouraged and worn out, but begged her family “not be anxious about me as I shall let you know if I am worse so you may consider all right, unless you hear to the contrary.”

The following month Maria reported more bad news: their horse had run away.

Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Growing Up: 1839-1859, 0 comments

“Do your part in the world’s work.”

“Do your part in the world’s work.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 1861

Lavinia Goodell had a strong work ethic and was rarely idle. In 1853, at age fourteen, she was already helping her father publish and distribute an anti-slavery publication and was very proud to report to her sister that after deducting the cost of ferry and stage expenses she had cleared over $7.00 for sixteen days of work and felt quite rich.

In 1861, Lavinia was twenty-two years old and was assisting her father in publishing the Principia, another anti-slavery paper.

In the December 7, 1861 issue she wrote a short piece titled “Labor the Duty of All,” which chided everyone “with stout bodies and active brains,” whether rich or poor, to put their talents to use. She said, “You owe that world your vigorous limbs and active muscles, your thinking brain, and beating heart, and if you withhold them, you are guilty!”

Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Principia years, 0 comments

“Frémont is honoring our metropolis with quite a stay.”

“Frémont is honoring our metropolis with quite a stay.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 21, 1861

During the years Lavinia Goodell lived in New York, she took advantage of the city’s cultural events and met many leading figures of the day. In late 1861, during the early months of the Civil War, she met General John C. Frémont.

General John C. Frémont, c. 1862

Frémont was born in Georgia in 1813. In the 1840s he led a series of expeditions intended to survey the far west. In 1856, the newly formed Republican party chose him, an outspoken abolitionist, as their first presidential candidate. He lost the election to Democratic candidate James Buchanan.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Frémont was commissioned a Major General, and President Lincoln gave him command of the Department of the West. In late August 1861, Frémont proclaimed martial law in Missouri, arrested known secessionists, suspended newspapers charged with disloyalty, and announced the emancipation of the slaves of individuals who took action against the Union.

Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Principia years, Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 0 comments

“Went to a temperance drama at Lappin’s Hall.”

“Went to a temperance drama at Lappin’s Hall.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 10, 1874

Janesville, Wisconsin has a wealth of historical buildings remaining, including some frequented by Lavinia Goodell when she lived in the city in the 1870s. One such building is the Lappin-Hayes Block located at the corner of Main and Milwaukee Streets, in the heart of the city’s downtown.

Lappin Block, c. 1880

Janesville is named after Henry James, who built a timber house on the Rock River, on the site of the Lappin-Hayes block, in 1836. Thomas Lappin, an early Janesville merchant, built a two-story store there in 1842. In 1855, Lappin erected a four-story red brick Italianate building on the site. The ground floor housed stores. The second floor had office space leased to attorneys, physicians, and other professionals. John Cassoday, one of Lavinia Goodell’s mentors, who later became Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, had his office in Lappin’s Block. The top floors of the building contained two performance halls, Lappin’s Hall and Apollo Hall. Lappin’s Hall was the larger one. It held hundreds of people and hosted many performances and community events. In her letters and diaries, Lavinia Goodell mentioned attending many functions there.

Janesville Daily Gazette, November 24, 1875
Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, 0 comments

“A young man from Beloit, by name of Dow, was examined and admitted with me.”

“A young man from Beloit, by name of Dow, was examined and admitted with me.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 18, 1874

Lavinia Goodell was not the only person to successfully undertake the bar examination at the Rock County Courthouse and be admitted to practice law in Wisconsin on June 17, 1874. A second aspiring attorney went through the same trial. Lavinia wrote to her sister the next day, “A young man from Beloit, by name of Dow, was examined and admitted with me.”

Lavinia Goodell’s June 17, 1874 letter to Maria Frost

Lavinia expanded on her Beloit colleague in a letter to her cousin Sarah Thomas. She explained that although she had initially doubted that Judge Conger would hold the examination on June 17:

But he said that the Beloit young man had come, and perhaps I had better go up and see him, and see if we could get the judge to approve a time. So I went up. Found the young man glad to see me, and we became good friends at once. He seemed quite pleased with the idea of being examined with a lady and was quite cordial and gallant. I found that he dreaded the examination full as much as I did, which was quite a consolation to me. He was in a hurry wanting to return to Beloit that night, so his lawyer pushed up the judge, to let us in, to be examined that night…. [W]e weathered the storm very well, and I do not think I suffered any by comparison with my colleague.

Continue reading →
Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, Friends, 1 comment
Load more