The real Lavinia Goodell now welcomes Rock County Courthouse visitors

When we launched this website in 2019, we shared a post called “A case of mistaken identity,” which explained how, back in 1959, an image of an unknown woman was erroneously sent to a New York author who had requested a photo of Lavinia Goodell. For sixty years, the unknown woman’s face graced books and articles about Lavinia Goodell and was also displayed on a large mural on the outside of the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville, Wisconsin and on a plaque inside. The error was called to our attention by Sarah Stamps and Beverly Wright, descendants of Lavinia’s sister, Maria Frost. The mural was updated with Lavinia’s real likeness some time ago, and as of December 14, 2021, the plaque has also been refurbished and rededicated and is now displayed inside the lobby of the courthouse so everyone entering will be able to see it and learn a bit about one of Janesville’s remarkable residents.

Plaque honoring Lavinia Goodell in the lobby of the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville, Wisconsin

It is not easy to correct a historical error, but thanks to the Women’s Fund, the Rock County Women’s History Committee, and generous donors, a sixty year old inaccuracy has been remedied.

Soon after we learned about the photo mixup and began to think about how we might rectify it, a librarian friend offered encouragement and said, “Yes, give her her face back!” We are thrilled to be able to introduce the real Lavinia to the world.

Lavinia spent the most significant years of her life in Janesville. She loved Janesville, and we think she would be deeply honored to know that Janesville views her as an important part of its history. In fact, as she once wrote to her sister to express her delight at how well she thought one of her cases was progressing, she might well say,  “Why, this is an unexpected pleasure. I am ready to explode with fun!”

And, by the way, we have also been working hard to discover the identity of the woman in what we like to call the “Faux Lavinia” picture. Thanks to some information recently discovered by Kathy Frost Muma, another of Lavinia’s relatives, we believe we are getting closer to solving that mystery. Stay tuned for updates.  

1 comment

Robert Emert

Thanks for the history lessons.

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