“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.”

On January 24, Lavinia wrote in her diary, “Called on Angie King in her new office and had long talk.” As part of the conversation, Lavinia likely broached the possibility of a possible business partnership. After two more discussions on January 25 and 27, Lavinia’s January 28 diary entry reported, “In afternoon went down street and arranged for a partnership with Miss King.” Lavinia and Angie had just formed Wisconsin’s first all female law firm. (This may have been the nation’s third female law partnership. We believe the first was Nettie and Florence Cronise, sisters from Tiffin, Ohio, whose firm was called N. & F. Cronise. Read about them here. The second was Ellen Martin and Mary Fredrik Perry of Chicago, who practiced as Perry & Martin. Read about them  here.) The short partnership agreement for Goodell & King provided that fees and expenses would be equally divided between the partners and that neither partner could incur any expense without the consent of the other.

The two women wasted no time in opening their new business. On January 31 Lavinia found an office and “saw to putting down carpet.” They began running a daily ad in the Gazette.

The February 1 Gazette reported:

Miss Lavinia Goodell and Miss Angie King have joined hands, and formed a partnership for the practice of law. They have fitted up a cosy office over Britton & Kimball’s store, and will be found there ready to attend to the wants and wishes of clients. The new firm embraces ability, industry and enterprise, and is bound to meet with success.

At first the partnership seemed to be a congenial one. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony sent their pictures, large lithographs, to hang in the women’s new office. On March 14, 1879, Lavinia wrote to her cousin Sarah Thomas, “Sitting at my desk in the office of ˜Goodell & King.” Angie is reading Jerry McCauley’s life aloud to Mary.” On March 29, Lavinia wrote to Sarah again:

The King girls are looking over their Bible lessons for tomorrow’s jail labors; for Mary has got tired of staying at home days and now comes here as regularly as Angie does. I like to have her, only it is almost too much of a temptation to stop and talk instead of cultivating my mind in a legal way as I ought to do.

But friction between the partners soon developed. Lavinia may have given the first hint of discontent in a July 5 diary entry where she reported that she had “worked up accounts and was puzzled over them.” By July 25, the tensions had increased. Lavinia wrote, “Trouble about partnership accounts which unnerved me for anything all day.”  On July 28, she wrote, “Another horrid financial struggle. Feel blue.”

By August the situation had reached a crisis point. Lavinia’s diary entries reveal her anguish over the situation. On August 6 she wrote, “Another wretched and horrible time at the office. I must get out of this soon as I reasonably can. Wish I had never got into it. I ought to have known better.” August 8: “Another horrible day and I am going to dissolve with A. tomorrow. Shall be thankful to get out of it on any terms.” August 9: Went to office. Found A. desired to remain and I took up my things and departed. Had a hard, exciting day but closed up everything quite satisfactorily on the whole.” Although the partnership agreement had called for a one month’s written notice prior to termination, Lavinia and Angie apparently agreed to immediately go their separate ways. Wisconsin’s first female law partnership had lasted a little more than six months.

Although the women were not well suited as partners, by all accounts, Lavinia remained on cordial terms with Angie for the rest of her life. Lavinia’s will, which was executed in early July 1879, around the time she began to have misgivings about the partnership, bequeathed all of her law books to Angie.

After Lavinia’s death in March 1880, Angie continued to practice law in Janesville. She died in January of 1913. The Gazette eulogized her by saying:

She was an ardent champion of woman’s suffrage and a firm believer in the rights of her sex. A woman of strong personality and sterling character, the impress of the influence was felt for good. For many years she was the close companion and constant attendant of a blind sister, and the love and devotion expressed was characteristic of the woman whose life has just closed. She was a consistent member of the Congregational church.

The May 6, 1913 Gazette containing the Rock County Bar Association’s tribute to Angie said, “Her life was a quiet one, devoted mainly to an office practice; and in saying of her that she was a good citizen and a good friend, that she was devoted to her clients and that they had faith in her, we are saying the best that can be said of any of us.”

Sources consulted: Janesville Gazette; Lavinia Goodell’s diaries; Lavinia Goodell’s letters to Sarah Thomas (March 14 and March 29, 1879); Goodell & King Articles of Co-Partnership; Goodell & King letterhead courtesy of Beverly Wright.

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