“Hark! Is that the step of my first client that I hear approaching my door?”

Lavinia Goodell, July 14, 1874

Immediately after being admitted to practice law on June 17, 1874, Lavinia Goodell took steps to open a legal practice. She had hoped to join Pliny Norcross and A. A. Jackson in their practice, but while Norcross was willing to allow her to share their offices, Jackson was not, so Lavinia told her sister, “I shall have to give up that little scheme.” However, as luck would have it, there were empty rooms for rent on the same floor of the Tallman Building as Jackson & Norcross, and Lavinia engaged one of those offices for $33.33 per annum, to be paid by the month.

Tallman Block, site of Lavinia’s first law office

Lavinia described her office:

A rather small room, but about right, with two east windows, and a small closet out of it. I have bought Mr. Hoppin’s desk, which Rebecca was glad to sell for $10.

My office is prettily furnished, and everybody says it looks pleasant. I have a pink straw matting on the floor, the one that was on my bedroom last summer, turned the other side up. Mr. Hoppin’s desk varnished over, a carpet lounge, two rocking and three arm chairs, a table on which reposes my small library. (Gerrit Smith sent her $20 to put toward her library.) And in the closet, mirror, washstand, toilet articles…. All I want now is a few good clients, which I hope the good Providence, which has always provided so well for me, will send.

Lavinia had business cards printed at the Gazette Printing Company.

She explained her choice of wording on the cards:

I put “Miss” on my cards, because I am tired of getting letters directed to Mrs. Lavinia Goodell, and having to explain, also because my name being rather unusual, some benighted heathen might not know but what I was a man, and I want everybody to have a realizing sense that I am a woman lawyer. Besides, I do not think it is necessary to do everything just as men do, if you know a better way.

Lavinia encouraged her sister to “Show my cards all around. Perhaps there is someone there who wants to get divorced or sue somebody, or foreclose a mortgage in this county! I can do it splendid!”

While it remained to be seen whether her practice would be lucrative, Lavinia was hopeful:

I had no idea was effect my admission would have upon human nature, and have been in a state of perfect curiosity to see whether I should be applauded or hissed. So far the hissing has been quite faint, and the applause loud and log.

Hark! Is that the step of my first client that I hear approaching my door?

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letters to Maria Goodell Frost (June 28, 1874; June 30m 1874; July 14, 1874); Lavinia Goodell’s diary, June 18, 1874.

Leave a Reply