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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

“Went down street. Got my business cards.”

“Went down street. Got my business cards.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 18, 1874

The William Goodell Family papers, housed in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, contain hundreds of letters written or received by Lavinia Goodell, starting from her teenage years in the 1850s and continuing until her death in 1880. In addition, the papers include scores of letters to and from other family members, some of which mention Lavinia. A recent visit to Berea College turned up an exciting – and never before seen – find: a business card that Lavinia had printed just days after her admission to the bar in June 1874.

After passing a rigorous examination in the early evening of June 17, 1874, Lavinia was eager to begin practicing law. Her diary entry for the next day reads, “After tea went down street, got mail and called at Gazette office to get cards printed.” She picked up her business cards three days later.

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Posted by admin in Legal practice, 0 comments

“If a woman can’t dress in a rational and decent way, I shouldn’t like to live among such barbarians.”

“If a woman can’t dress in a rational and decent way, I shouldn’t like to live among such barbarians.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 8, 1853

In 1853, fourteen year old Lavinia Goodell tried unsuccessfully to encourage her twenty-six year old sister Maria to try a new fashion trend: bloomers.

A bloomer dress

In the mid 1800s, women wore corsets and multiple petticoats weighing as much as fifteen pounds in order to fill out their skirts. These voluminous undergarments made movement difficult and sometimes impaired breathing. In 1851, an editorial appeared in the Seneca [New York]  County Courier suggesting that women wear “Turkish pantaloons and a skirt reaching a little below the knee.” Amelia Bloomer, the editor of an upstate New York women’s newspaper called The Lily, chided the male Courier writer for advocating for dress reform but not for women’s rights.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer
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Posted by admin in Growing Up: 1839-1859, 0 comments

“I screamed ‘Fire’ and called to Pa”

“I screamed ‘Fire’ and called to Pa”

Lavinia Goodell, December 28, 1853

Fourteen-year-old Lavinia Goodell experienced two harrowing events in December of 1853. On December 10, while working in her father’s offices in lower Manhattan she witnessed the huge fire that destroyed Harper & Brothers publishing company. On December 28 she was again helping her father when a fire broke out in the next room.

William Goodell had moved to Brooklyn with his wife and daughter earlier in the year and began publishing American Jubilee, an anti-slavery publication, at 84 Beekman Street, in what is now New York’s financial district.

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“You have probably heard news of the great fire.”

“You have probably heard news of the great fire.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 14, 1853

Lavinia Goodell lived in New York (mainly in Brooklyn but also, for a year, in Manhattan) from 1853 until 1871. During her years in the city she witnessed many historic events. She watched president-elect Lincoln’s carriage procession from a Fifth Avenue balcony. She and her family survived the deadly draft riots of 1863. In December of 1853, fourteen year old Lavinia was an eye witness to the huge fire that destroyed Harper Publishing’s offices in lower Manhattan.

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

“We next proceeded to Barnum’s museum.”

“We next proceeded to Barnum’s museum”

Lavinia Goodell, October 12, 1853

P.T. Barnum was a nineteenth century showman who is best known for founding the Barnum & Bailey circus in 1871. But nearly twenty-five years earlier he purchased a museum in what is now New York City’s financial district, added unusual – and often fake or deceiving – exhibits, and renamed the establishment Barnum’s American Museum. In the early 1850s, the museum was a popular tourist destination and in October of 1853, fourteen year old Lavinia Goodell, whose family had recently moved to Brooklyn, visited the Barnum museum for the first time.

Barnum’s American Museum in New York City
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Posted by admin in Growing Up: 1839-1859, 0 comments

“I visited the Crystal Palace and must tell you all about it.”

“I visited the Crystal Palace and must tell you all about it.”

Lavinia Goodell, November 23, 1853

In the summer of 1853, the Crystal Palace exhibition building opened on 42nd Street in New York City, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, in what is now Bryant Park. Inspired by London’s 1851 Crystal Palace, the New York edifice had the shape of a Greek cross and featured a dome that was 148 feet high and 100 feet in diameter.

Crystal Palace as shown on Lavinia Goodell’s stationery

Officially called the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, the Crystal Palace was New York’s first world’s fair. The poet Walt Whitman, a frequent visitor, wrote that it was “certainly unsurpassed anywhere for beauty.” Fourteen-year-old Lavinia Goodell visited the exhibition in November of 1853 and shared many details of what she saw in a letter to her sister, Maria Frost, written on a sheet of paper she bought at the Palace.

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

“Mrs. Stanton has sent us her picture and Miss Anthony’s to hang up in our office.”

“Mrs. Stanton has sent us her picture and Miss Anthony’s to hang up in our office.”

Lavinia Goodell, April 5, 1879

Lavinia Goodell had a lifelong admiration for the work Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony did to promote women’s rights, particularly suffrage. Lavinia’s mother, Clarissa Cady Goodell, was a cousin of Stanton’s through her fourth great grandfather. Lavinia, along with her mother and sister, followed Stanton’s and Anthony’s writings and Lavinia regularly corresponded with both women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
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Posted by admin in Friends, Women's rights, 1 comment

“Next Sunday, Mrs. Van Cott again.”

“Next Sunday, Mrs. Van Cott again.”

Lavinia Goodell, July 13, 1873

Lavinia Goodell championed the right of all women to enter the profession of their choice. She believed that by developing their minds, women would be able to support themselves financial and  potentially avoid the need to embark upon a loveless marriage solely for economic reasons. She strongly supported women entering the clergy, a notion that was anathema even to some otherwise progressive nineteenth century men.  

Lavinia made a point of going to hear women lecturers who came to Janesville, Wisconsin. In the summer of 1873, she went to several lectures given by Maggie Van Cott, the first woman licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal church.

Maggie Van Cott
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Posted by admin in Life in Wisconsin: 1871-1880, Women's rights, 0 comments
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