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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

“My admission seems to amuse Deacon Eldred.”

“My admission seems to amuse Deacon Eldred.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 30, 1874

During the eight years that Lavinia Goodell lived in Janesville, Wisconsin, in addition to first studying and then practicing law, she was a member of the Congregational Church, actively promoted temperance, and worked to establish a free reading room in the city. Through her participation in these activities she met many prominent Janesville citizens with common interests. One of them was F. S. Eldred.

Frederick Starr Eldred was born in New York State in 1821. He came to Wisconsin in 1842 and moved to Janesville in 1856. In his early years in the city he engaged in the lumber business, after which he went into the grocery trade.

March 9, 1872 Janesville Gazette

Eldred was one of the organizers of the Janesville Cotton Manufacturing Company. He served as an alderman and was one of the incorporators of the First National bank and its first vice-president. He was an active supporter of the temperance cause. In 1873, Eldred’s wife joined Lavinia Goodell and other local women in marching to city hall to protest the granting of additional liquor licenses.

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Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, Friends, 1 comment

“In this era of Progress, young ladies have got their eyes open.”

“In this era of Progress, young ladies have got their eyes open.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 1860

In the spring of 1860, Lavinia Goodell wrote a six-part series titled “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife,” which was published in her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia. (Read about the first two installments here and here.)

Lavinia’s offerings appeared in the “Family Miscellany” section at the end of the weekly paper. They provided some levity in a publication whose masthead declared itself devoted to “First Principles in Religion, Morals, Government, and the Economy of life.”  The April 28, 1860 issue in which the third of  Lavinia’s “Chapters to Young Men” appeared, contained a letter from Gerrit Smith’s daughter agreeing with William Goodell’s sentiment that, correctly interpreted, the United States Constitution was anti-slavery and if in fact parts of the Constitution were in favor of slavery, then those parts are “so wrong as to be altogether null and void.” Lavinia possibly felt that after reading six pages on such sobering topics, some humor was in order on pages seven and eight, and she was happy to provide it.

April 28, 1860 Principia

In part three of her series, Lavinia began by telling young men not to fall in love with every girl they meet and not to form judgments too hastily. “There are a great many girls whom you will like, with whom you will form very pleasant friendships, but only one to whom you can give your whole heart.”

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“Miss Goodell will be admitted to practice in this court.”

“Miss Goodell will be admitted to practice in this court.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Oramus Cole, June 18, 1879

Lavinia Goodell’s name will forever be linked with that of Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Ryan since he was the author of the infamous opinion that held only men were eligible to practice law in Wisconsin and denied Lavinia’s first petition for admission to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court . (Read more here). Ryan’s life and career have been heavily scrutinized for 150 years, but the justice who, in 1879, authored the very short opinion granting Lavinia’s second motion to be admitted to the Supreme Court bar receives much less attention.  That is unfortunate because Justice Orasmus Cole was a valued member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court for nearly four decades.

Justice Orasmus Cole

Cole was born in New York State in 1819. Both of his grandfathers served in the Revolutionary war. He studied law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1845. Late that year he settled in the small southwest Wisconsin mining town of Potosi. In 1847, he served as a delegate to the second Wisconsin constitutional convention. In 1848, after the constitution was ratified, the Whig party nominated Cole as their candidate for Congress. He won the election. He refused to support the fugitive slave provisions of the 1850 compromise that gave new states coming into the union the choice of whether to allow slavery, and he was defeated in his 1850 bid for reelection.

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“Have a character! Mean something.”

“Have a character! Mean something.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 21, 1860

In the second chapter of her series-  published the Principia – imparting advice on how young men could win a wife (read about the first chapter here), twenty year old Lavinia Goodell continued her theme that if a young man expected to attract a prospective spouse of high character, he would need to convince the young woman that he was worthy of her. She began:

Lavinia continued, “Do you dream of a gentle, pure, thoughtful maiden, she dreams of a strong, noble, whole-souled man. Be a man, then, if you would win a woman. Have some manliness, and act it out.”

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Posted by admin in Principia years, 2 comments

“Sent for Dr. Chittenden and had a consultation with him.”

“Sent for Dr. Chittenden and had a consultation with him.”

Lavinia Goodell, May 7, 1877

When Lavinia Goodell and her parents lived in Janesville, Wisconsin in the 1870s, their family physician was G. W. Chittenden, a surgeon as well as a homeopathic practitioner.

Dr. G. W. Chittenden

George Washington Chittenden was born in Oneida County, New York in 1820. His father fought in the Revolutionary War. Dr. Chittenden graduated from Albany Medical College in 1846 and after practicing a few months in Chicago, where he investigated the principles of homeopathic medicine, he settled in Janesville in 1846 and practiced there for the rest of his life.

December 19, 1846 Janesville Gazette
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“A man has got to be something, if he is going to win something.”

“A man has got to be something, if he is going to win something.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 1860

From 1859 until early 1865, Lavinia Goodell assisted her father in editing and publishing the Principia, an anti-slavery newspaper, from its offices in lower Manhattan. She also wrote dozens of pieces for the paper. None carried a full byline. Many were simply signed “L.” In the spring of 1860, twenty year old Lavinia wrote a series of articles titled “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife” in which she offered some good natured but sly commentary advice on the qualities women were likely to be drawn to.

She began:

She then admonished gentlemen that if they wished to win the hearts of such perfect creatures, they had better make sure they were worthy.

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“Nobody is fitted for a low place, and everybody is taught to look for a high one.”

“Nobody is fitted for a low place, and everybody is taught to look for a high one.”

Lavinia Goodell, January 1862

In January of 1862, twenty-two year old Lavinia Goodell wrote an article for her father’s anti-slavery newspaper the Principia titled Errors in Education.

The proposition of the piece was that all young people were encouraged to strive to achieve high office or positions of honor when in fact most people would be better served by filling humbler stations in life. Her article began:

Lavinia quoted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of her favorite poets, in the piece. While she said, “There is a fine ring to the familiar quatrain of Mr. Longfellow, it is nothing more than a musical cheat. The lives of great men remind us that they have made their own memory sublime but they do not assure us at all that we can leave footprints like theirs behind us.”

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“Went to the excursion to the Dells. Splendid scenery.”

“Went to the excursion to the Dells. Splendid scenery.”

Lavinia Goodell, October 11, 1879

In October 1879, less than six months before her death, Lavinia Goodell attended the American Women’s Association Congress in Madison. Read more about it here and here.  While Lavinia reported that the convention included “no end of unsatisfactory Board meetings,” on Saturday, October 11, she joined one hundred other women – and less than a dozen men – on a train trip to the scenic Dells of the Wisconsin River. Her diary entry for the day read, “Splendid scenery and a pleasant but fatiguing time.”

Lavinia Goodell diary entry, October 11, 1879
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