“I received my commission as notary public.”

“I received my commission as notary public.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 10, 1875

Since Lavinia Goodell was the first woman admitted to practice law in Wisconsin, it is likely that she was also the first woman in Wisconsin to receive a commission as a notary public. Lavinia’s first mention of serving as a notary appears in a February 10, 1875 letter that she wrote to her sister, Maria Frost:

I received, yesterday, my commission as notary public, from the Gov. So now I can administer the oath, acknowledge deeds, etc. The certificate expresses the Gov’s confidence in my “integrity & ability,” etc. & I had besides a note from his secretary, Mr. Bird (my opposing counsel on the Burrington suit) – read more about the Burrington case here – saying he was very happy to do it for me.

Maria must have inquired what was entailed in being a notary public because on March 24, 1875 Lavinia sent her a lengthy explanation and affixed an imprint of her notary seal to the letter.

Lavinia Goodell’s notary seal
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“Mr. Sloan read my argument. Judge Ryan mad as a bull.”

“Mr. Sloan read my argument. Judge Ryan mad as a bull.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 14, 1875

When Lavinia Goodell applied for admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court bar in 1875, she was not allowed to present the motion to the court herself. Instead, her argument was read by Assistant Attorney General I.C. Sloan. Along with J.B. Cassoday, Sloan, a former Janesville attorney, was one of the people who made Lavinia’s admission to the Supreme Court bar possible.

I. C. Sloan
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“Lawyer Cassoday calls me his sister in law.”

“Lawyer Cassoday calls me his sister in law.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 30, 1874

One of Lavinia Goodell’s staunchest allies during her legal career was John Bolivar Cassoday. He offered her advice on cases, allowed her to use his extensive law library, and as a member of the Wisconsin legislature, introduced the bill that decreed that no person could be denied a license to practice law on account of sex, thus allowing Lavinia to be admitted to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court

John Bolivar Cassoday
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“Judge Conger will stand by me.”

“Judge Conger will stand by me.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 20, 1875

When Lavinia Goodell became the first Wisconsin woman admitted to practice law in June of 1874, she could credit her accomplishment on her studiousness and tenacity, but if Circuit Judge Harmon S. Conger had refused to allow her to take the examination given to aspiring attorneys, Lavinia’s battle to become a member of the bar may have been far more protracted. Despite some initial uncertainty as to whether women were eligible to become lawyers, Judge Conger found no statute or rule explicitly prohibiting women’s admission to the bar, and he offered Lavinia the same chance to prove herself afforded to male candidates. Although the judge held conservative ideas on many topics, he treated Lavinia with equanimity and became her mentor and friend.

Photograph of Judge Harmon Conger
Judge Harmon S. Conger
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“Miss Lavinia Goodell & Miss Angie King have formed a partnership for the practice of law.”

“Miss Lavinia Goodell & Miss Angie King have formed a partnership for the practice of law.”

Janesville Gazette, February 1, 1879

Angie King kept busy during the 1870s by working in her brother’s bookstore and caring for her blind sister. At the same time, she studied law in the office of A.A. Jackson.  Along with Lavinia Goodell, she was also active in Janesville’s two literary societies, the Mutual Improvement Club and the Round Table. (Read more about the two clubs here.)

On January 10, 1879, Lavinia was present at the Rock County Courthouse when Angie and two men were examined for admission to the bar. While Lavinia found out that she passed her examination the same day it was given, Angie and the two male scholars had to wait three days to learn their fate. The Janesville Gazette reported, all three passed and “are now recognized as regular practicing attorneys.”

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Reclaiming criminals: “My remedies will either kill or cure!”

Reclaiming criminals: “My remedies will either kill or cure!”

Lavinia was quite taken with James Tolan, her client accused of stealing a $23 watch. “I never had the confidence of a criminal before,” she told her sister.  “It was a very interesting experience.” Poor Tolan, an inmate of the Rock County jail, was literally a captive audience. Lavinia visited him often and, in her words, “persecuted him nearly to death” with lectures, tracts and sermons. She declared: “my remedies on him will either kill or cure!” Lucky for Tolan, Lavinia’s courtroom zeal matched her determination as a reformer.

November 16, 1875 Janesville Gazette article about Lavinia’s defense of James Tolan

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“What shall we do with our criminals?”

“What shall we do with our criminals?”

In the fall of 1875, Judge Harmon Conger—the same judge who admitted Lavinia to the Rock County bar—changed the course of her legal career. She was sitting in her office drafting a client’s will when a sheriff popped in to announce that the judge had just appointed her to defend two criminals. One, James Tolan, was charged with stealing a watch from someone. The other, Harrison Cramer, had allegedly stolen spoons, jackknives, and a black silk belt from a store. The appointments surprised Lavinia.

A drunk tramp with a pocket watch.

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Posted by admin in Jail school/prison reform, Legal practice, 3 comments

A young, lady lawyer wins with her looks; an old one needs a strong case.

A young, lady lawyer wins with her looks; an old one needs a strong case.

The young and lovely Elle Woods from Legal Blonde

Pretty, young, female lawyers are fascinating to watch in court, and “they might occasionally get away with a verdict from a susceptible jury.” But they cannot achieve the same level of success as a young male lawyer. By the time a female lawyer gains sufficient experience to compete with her male counterpart she will  be old and ugly. Her powers of persuasion lie in the strength of her case. That’s the thesis of an article called “Female Lawyers,” which appeared along with closeups about Lavinia Goodell and Kate Kane (Wisconsin’s first two women lawyers) in the March 16, 1879 Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph. The article is reprinted below in full.

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