“I have been the bluest and lonesomest dog you ever saw.”

“I have been the bluest and lonesomest dog you ever saw.”

Lavinia Goodell, November 20, 1879

November 1879 was not a happy time for Lavinia Goodell. After eight years in Janesville, Wisconsin, she rather abruptly made the decision to move to Madison, Wisconsin’s capitol city, and set up her law practice there. She arrived in Madison by train on Saturday, November 15. On the 20th she wrote a long letter to her cousin Sarah Thomas in which she laid bare her unhappiness and frustrations:

I have been the bluest and lonesomest dog you ever saw since I have been here; am feeling a little better today. Last week I was very busy packing off, which was melancholy business. I sent the sofas & best rocker, parlor chairs & carpet, stand & bedding to Maria, rocker, stove, dining chairs & office furniture for myself & sold everything else…. Came up here sat. afternoon, bag & baggage. Left freight at the depot & came to Miss Bright’s with trunk & carpet bag.

In October, Lavinia had spent several days in Madison participating in a women’s convention and spent time with the “Misses Bright,” who lived on Carroll Street, at the intersection of Johnson, not far from the capitol. Eliza and Winifred Bright were two elderly unmarried sisters who had for a time run a school for young ladies. By the time Lavinia met the Brights, they were running a boarding house.

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“Is woman’s position one of equality with man, or subjection to him?”

“Is woman’s position one of equality with man, or subjection to him?”

Lavinia Goodell, August 1873

In the summer of 1873, a year before she became a lawyer, Lavinia Goodell read an editorial titled “Woman Suffrage and Marriage” that had appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette. The premise of the piece was that there was no point in allowing women to vote because they would obviously vote in lock step with their husbands. As the Gazette put it, “To give the wife a vote, so that she may vote as her husband does, is simply to give the married man two votes.” Lavinia found this notion “exasperatingly absurd” and promptly wrote an article responding to it.

Lavinia read the offending Cincinnati Gazette piece when it was reprinted in full in the July 19, 1873 issue of Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal. Lucy Stone herself introduced the piece with the heading “An enemy’s view.”

Lavinia’s response appeared in the August 16, 1873 issue of the Woman’s Journal. She wrote:

Is woman’s position one of equality with man, or subjection to him? This is the question at issue between woman suffragists and their opponents…. No one among us has ever tried to … put [this issue] out of sight. That has been left for our opponents to do; and most of them have had the shrewdness and good policy to do it.

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“Your time could not have been improved to better advantage than by reading law.”

“Your time could not have been improved to better advantage than by reading law.”

Lavinia Goodell, September 1875

In late summer 1875, a little over a year after she was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin, Lavinia Goodell penned an article that appeared in the September 4, 1975 Woman’s Journal titled “Shall Women Study Law?” Her conclusion was a resounding “yes.”

Lavinia’s article answered six questions about the feasibility of women studying law. The first was “Had I better study? Will it pay?” Lavinia encouraged everyone having a taste for legal study and the time to devote to it to by all means study. She said, “Should you never practice, or even never complete a full course of reading, … the information thus obtained will be invaluable to you and the mental discipline is worth solid gold.”

Second, in response to the question, “What previous education is necessary?” she replied, “The more the better.” While she said a collegiate course was desirable for someone who was young and could spare the time, it was not indispensable. She held the same view of Latin study. On the other hand, she deemed “a thorough mathematical course and good knowledge of history”  necessary and touted the benefits of being well read in literature, taking a metaphysical course, and studying logic and languages.

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“The future for women law graduates is bright”

“The future for women law graduates is bright”

Emily Kempin-Spyri, first woman law graduate in Switzerland, 1888

Arabella Mansfield is often cited as the first woman lawyer in the United States, gaining admission to the bar in 1869 (although she never practiced). By the time Lavinia Goodell was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1874, she joined a small coterie of a dozen or so other American women. A previous post featured Lidia Poët, Italy’s first woman lawyer. The first Swiss woman to earn a law degree was Emily Kempin-Spyri.

Emily Kempin-Spyri

Emily Spyri was born in 1853. She was the niece of Johanna Spyri, the author of Heidi. She was born into a wealthy family but married against her father’s wishes. Her husband, pastor and social reformer Walter Kempin, supported her aspirations to become a lawyer. She graduated from the University of Zurich’s law school in 1883 and earned a doctoral degree, summa cum laude, in 1887. However, she was denied the right to practice because she was not an “active citizen” of Switzerland. The Swiss constitution required a citizen to pay taxes and serve in the military, which excluded women. After her appeal to the Supreme Court but was denied, she came to New York where there were greater opportunities for women lawyers. In order to familiarize herself with American law, she applied for admission to Columbia College Law School. It was four months before her request was denied, but in the meantime she had been quietly attending the school’s lectures. New York University allowed her to attend law classes, as a courtesy to the University of Zurich, with the understanding that her attendance would create no precedent for other women. Unfortunately, she was denied admission to the New York City bar association because she was a foreigner. She then co-founded a free legal clinic for the poor and soon afterward decided to establish a law school for women.

Brooklyn Times Union, October 5, 1888
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“The position of lawyer was an office exercisable only by males.”

“The position of lawyer was an office exercisable only by males.”

Court of Appeals of Turin, Italy in ordering the disbarment of Lidia Poët, Italy’s first woman lawyer, in 1883

When Lavinia Goodell was denied the right to appear before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1876, the Chief Justice wrote that by appearing in court a woman would “unsex” herself and commit “treason against nature.” Lidia Poët, Italy’s first woman lawyer, was subjected to very similar sentiments by an Italian court in the early 1880s.

Lidia Poët

Lidia Poët was born in 1855. After high school, she enrolled in law school at the University of Turin. She graduated with honors and wrote a thesis titled “Condition of women with respect to constitutional law and administrative law in elections.”  For two years she was an apprentice in the office of a progressive senator and lawyer. In 1883 she passed a bar exam and asked the Order of Turin to admit her to the register of attorneys. Her request was granted, by a vote of 8 to 4, but two of the naysayers were so outraged that they resigned from the Order in protest.

The Attorney General of the King challenged Lidia’s registration. An appellate court ruled against Lidia and cancelled her registration. It said that even though the law regulating the legal profession did not expressly exclude women, since it did not expressly say they were included, women could not practice law.  

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“Lydia Maria Child has a good letter to the editor.”

“Lydia Maria Child has a good letter to the editor.”

Clarissa Goodell to Lavinia Goodell, March 3, 1866

Best known for her Thanksgiving poem “Over the river and through the woods,” Lydia Maria (pronounced Mar – eye – ah, the same pronunciation as Lavinia Goodell’s sister Maria Goodell Frost’s name) Child was an  influential nineteenth century woman author. She was also an ardent abolitionist who was well known to Lavinia Goodell and her family. (In an 1861 letter, Child mentioned Lavinia’s father William, complimenting the  “close, hard logic of Goodell.”)

Lydia Maria Child

Child was born Lydia Maria Francis in Massachusetts in 1802.  She wrote her first book at age 22, Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times, a scandalous novel for its time telling the story of a Native American warrior who fell in love with a white woman. Child’s rapidly rising literary star gained her friends in the highest pantheons of literature, including Edgar Allen Poe and John Greenleaf Whittier. Children’s books and a children’s magazine, The Juvenile Miscellany, followed.

In 1828, she married David Lee Child, an idealistic lawyer, writer, abolitionist, and believer in women’s rights. His reckless business ventures condemned the couple to a life of debt, and the money Maria earned from her writing barely kept them afloat.  

In the early 1830s, the Childs met William Lloyd Garrison and became active in the antislavery movement, a commitment shared by the Goodell family.

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“The devil has come down in great wrath knowing that his time is short.”

“The devil has come down in great wrath knowing that his time is short.”

Lavinia Goodell, February 29, 1872

In early 1872, media accounts – especially on the east coast – were abuzz with the scandalous story that a woman had been allowed to preach in a Brooklyn Presbyterian church. The brazen woman in question was Sarah Smiley, a Quaker.

Sarah Smiley

Ms.  Smiley was born in Maine in 1830. She initially wanted to become a teacher but after the Civil War went South to “relieve human suffering.” She later began speaking to audiences and eventually was invited to speak in liberal-minded churches. In January 1872 she became the first woman to ever speak in a Presbyterian church when Rev. Theodore Cuyler invited her to address his congregation in Brooklyn. Rev. Cuyler had lived with Quakers and had been invited to address a Friends revival meeting in Brooklyn, so in return he invited Ms. Smiley to speak from his pulpit on a Sunday evening.

By all accounts Ms. Smiley’s address was well received (she spoke about the vision of Jacob wrestling with an angel), and it is unlikely that either she or Rev. Cuyler could have anticipated the firestorm that soon followed.  Two days after the event a scathing letter signed by Jon Edwards appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Mr. Edwards accused Rev. Cuyler of “degrading the teachings of St. Paul.” He wrote:

This is no time to encourage even in the remotest way the pretensions of those graceless women who are engaged in the unholy work of turning society upside down, and whom I hear in our families and social gatherings, ridiculing St. Paul as an old Jewish bachelor, unworthy of respect.

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“Miss Lily Peckham is now preparing herself for the ministry.”

“Miss Lily Peckham is now preparing herself for the ministry.”

Juniata Sentinel (Mifflintown, Pennsylvania), January 4, 1871

A previous post discussed Lily Peckham (1843-1871), who was active in the woman’s rights movement and who may or may not have briefly practiced law in Milwaukee.

Lily maintained a busy schedule in the last two years of her life. According to newspaper accounts, she attended and spoke at women’s rights conventions in Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, New York, and Providence, R.I. Reporters complimented her speeches but also commented on her appearance, with the Chicago Evening Post referring to her as “the beautiful and bewitching Milwaukee lawyeress,” and an Iowa newspaper touting her “lady-like appearance and manner and intellectual cast of features.”

Lily contributed to and was a Milwaukee agent for the Revolution, the official publication of the National Woman Suffrage Association formed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to secure a suffrage through a federal constitutional amendment.

The Revolution, Nov. 4, 1869
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