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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

“Has Willie enlisted yet?”

“Has Willie enlisted yet?”

Lavinia Goodell, August 12, 1862

Lavinia Goodell did not have children, but she clearly doted on her four nephews and had a special relationship with the eldest, William Goodell Frost. Named after his maternal grandfather, the family affectionately called him Willie.

Willie was born in 1854, when Lavinia was fifteen. When he was four years old, his mother wrote to Lavinia, “Willie says, ‘I wonder if Aunt Vinny curls her hair yet. How pretty it must look. I do want to see her.’”

William Goodell Frost
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Posted by admin in Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 0 comments

“Wasn’t Gerrit Smith a dashing good creature?”

“Wasn’t Gerrit Smith a dashing good creature?”

Lavinia Goodell, November 7, 1861

Gerrit Smith was a prominent abolitionist and social reformer who was a longtime acquaintance of Lavinia’s father, William Goodell. The Goodell family remained friends with Smith for the rest of his life, and Smith was one of Lavinia’s mentors.

Gerrit Smith

Smith was born in Utica, New York in 1797. (Lavinia Goodell was born in Utica in 1839.) Smith’s father was an early partner of John Jacob Astor in the fur trade. Shortly after Smith’s father died in 1837, a financial crisis led to a depression that lasted into the 1840s. Banks would not provide Smith with the loans he needed to meet his business obligations, so he turned to his father’s old partner for help. Astor loaned Smith $250,000 in return for a mortgage on property for which Smith had paid $14,000 ten years earlier. Due to a mixup, there was a delay in sending the mortgage to Astor, so for several weeks Astor had nothing but Smith’s word to secure the $250,000 loan.

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Posted by admin in Friends, 1 comment

“I know Lavinia can never earn a steady living.”

“I know Lavinia can never earn a steady living.”

Maria Frost, April 10, 1865

It is doubtful that Lavinia Goodell ever enjoyed extended periods of good health. She was a sickly infant and youngster, and as an adult she was often ill. (During the years she practiced law, in addition to physical ailments, she suffered from frequent bouts of severe depression. That topic will be covered in a future post.) In spite of her many maladies,  Lavinia rarely complained, and she never let her poor health stand in the way of accomplishing whatever she set out to do.

Lavinia Goodell as a teenager

Although Lavinia did not waste time worrying about herself and maintained a hectic schedule until the final months of her life, her mother and sister spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about her and trying to dissuade her from being so active.

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Posted by admin in Young Adulthood: 1860-1871, 0 comments

“Health is more important than writing.”

“Health is more important than writing.”

Clarissa Goodell to Lavinia Goodell, August 5, 1861

Lavinia Goodell grew up in a family that believed in healthy living practices. Good nutrition, scrupulous sanitary customs, and regular exercise were part of their daily program. Here is how Lavinia’s sister, Maria Frost, described the household routine at the time of Lavinia’s birth in 1839:

The habits of the household [included] regularly stated hours of rising and retiring, the table regimen was according to the principles of Dr. Sylvester Graham, with some exceptions suggested by constitutional needs, as learned by careful experience and strong common sense.

 Sylvester Graham may not be a household name today, but a version of a product he developed is in many homes. Yes, Dr. Graham was the inventor of the graham cracker.

Dr. Sylvester Graham
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Posted by admin in Growing Up: 1839-1859, 0 comments

“There has been a great excitement here about a murder lately committed.”

“There has been a great excitement here about a murder lately committed.”

Maria Frost, July 18, 1855

In the course of researching Lavinia Goodell’s life and times, we have come across accounts of many little known, but interesting, historical events that impacted her or her family. For example, did you know that there was a public lynching in Janesville, Wisconsin in the summer of 1855? Here is the story that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Wisconsin State Journal, July 13, 1855
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Posted by admin in Growing Up: 1839-1859, 1 comment

“Hattie grows lovelier every day.”

“Hattie grows lovelier every day.”

Maria Frost, December 1, 1862.

The child mortality rate was high in the mid-1800s, with 34% of children born in 1860 not living to see their fifth birthday. The Goodell family was not spared.  Lavinia Goodell’s sister and brother-in-law lost two young children.

Maria and Lewis Frost already had one son when, on January 20, 1858, Lewis Frost wrote to his in-laws reporting that Maria had just given birth to a fine, healthy eight pound boy in Arcade, New York, which is near Buffalo. Lewis said, “I am very glad the child is a boy though I did not expect it. The name is not ready yet. If he lives a few weeks, we shall try to find a name.” Sadly, the infant remained unnamed. On February 19, 1858, Lewis wrote, “Our baby is just leaving us. We all feel sure that it cannot survive the day out…. The babe we shall take to Riga for burial…. Maria says she is not sorry she had the child. Neither am I.”

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Posted by admin in Principia years, 3 comments

“Necessity compels many women to go into the world of business”

“Necessity compels many women to go into the world of business”

Lavinia Goodell, November 1867

Lavinia Goodell was a voracious reader and subscribed to many publications, particularly those with a connection to the Congregational Church and those advancing the cause of women’s rights. One of the periodicals she read regularly was the Advance, a weekly publication of the Congregational Church that was headquartered in Chicago and put out its first issue in September 1867.

It was not long before Lavinia found cause to send a letter to the magazine. (Lavinia was not the first member of her family to be published in the Advance. Her father beat her to the punch by having his article “Christ for all time” published in the September 19, 1867 issue.)

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Posted by admin in Harper's Bazar years, 0 comments

“What do you think about a change of business?”

“What do you think about a change of business?”

Maria Frost, August 30, 1865

Lavinia Goodell held a number of different jobs. She was rarely out of work for long and, like many young people who are trying to move up in the world, she was always on the lookout for fresh opportunities. Her family and friends also sometimes suggested positions that they thought might suit her.

Lavinia Goodell, c. 1870
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Posted by admin in Teaching years, 0 comments
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