“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.

The young man in question was Joel B. Dow.

Joel B. Dow, c. 1880s (image courtesy of Beloit Historical Society)

Dow  was four years Lavinia’s junior and was born in Vermont in 1843. His family moved to southern Wisconsin the following year. Dow graduated from Beloit College in 1869. (In 1866, an issue of Beloit College Monthly magazine reported that Dow and three male classmates participated in a public discussion of the question, “Resolved: That the right of suffrage ought to be extended to women.” Unfortunately the magazine does not indicate where Dow stood on that question, but perhaps the fact that he told Lavinia he was pleased that a woman was taking the bar exam with him might hint at his views.)  

For two years Dow and a classmate published a newspaper. Dow subsequently read law in the office of S.J. Todd in Beloit. Dow practiced law in Beloit for the next 48 years. According to the Beloit Historical Society, he was also a realtor and an insurance salesman and was “colorful, eloquent and highly patriotic.”

In the early 1900s, Dow became president of the Beloit Traction Company, a public utility which owned and operated a six mile long electric street car line. According to the Beloit Transit website, Dow “was a free spirit and saw growth and betterment for Beloit through the building of a public transportation system.”  A Rock County, Wisconsin historical directory said, “He has been a leading spirit in all public enterprises looking towards the growth and betterment of the city, and it is conceded that in many ways much of the Beloit of today is due to his untiring work.”

During his legal career, Dow appealed a number of cases to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, with mixed results. In 1917 he went into partnership in Beloit with an Elkhorn lawyer named Clarence Haugan.

Dow outlived Lavinia Goodell by 42 years. He died in 1922 at the age of 78. The State Bar Association of Wisconsin eulogized him by saying:

He was a public spirited citizen and responsible for the Beloit Carnegie Library, its street car system, the P.B. Yates company plant, Horace White Memorial, Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the First church of Christian Science denomination…. There seems to be something in the mountains of Vermont which creates distinguished members of the bar, providing, however, they move to the boundless West, whose wide and fertile valleys give them opportunity to expand. Mr. Dow was a gentleman of the old school, intensely interested in social and political affairs, devoting his time and his money to public improvements, kind, considerate and entirely unselfish. He had the love of the entire community in which he lived.

Although it does not appear that Lavinia stayed in touch with Dow after their admission to the bar, it sounds as though she and her “good friend” shared a desire to help others and make the world a better place.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diary, June 17, 1874;  Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (June 18, 1874), quoted in “Life of Lavinia Goodell,” unpublished manuscript by Maria Goodell Frost; Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Sarah Thomas (June 18, 1874);  “A Notable Beloiter,” Beloit Historical Society newsletter, Volume 28, Issue 2 (March/April 2021); Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities; https://www.beloittransit.com/history/; Janesville Daily Gazette (April 21, 1922); Beloit College Monthly, Vol. 13, p. 118; Proceedings of the State Bar Association of Wisconsin (1923), p. 97.


1 comment

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Another unsung hero of Southern Wisconsin who selflessly helped put this state on the path toward a better, more prosperous future for all its citizens.

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