“Why this is an unexpected pleasure . . . I am ready to explode with fun!”

–Lavinia Goodell, September 24, 1874

Many, many thanks to the State Bar of Wisconsin. It has awarded Lavinia Goodell the Lifetime Legal Innovator award posthumously for opening the practice of law to women. Click here. The honor helps raise public awareness about Lavinia’s important contributions to history.

We think that Lavinia would be pleased. To her, the equality of women and men was “like an axiom which it were as idle to dispute as to undertake to controvert the multiplication table.” Click here. She would not have expected to receive the award in 2019–150 years after she was admitted to the Rock County Circuit Court because she thought that once a few women began practicing law, the prejudice against them would melt away quickly. In any case, she would be delighted to learn that opening the bar to women helped improve the hygiene of courtrooms across Wisconsin! In her September 4, 1875 Woman’s Journal article, “Shall Women Study Law?,” she wrote:

Once admitted, there is nothing but prejudice in the way of successful practice for a suitably qualified woman. But prejudice is rapidly melting away, and by the time those now contemplating a course of study are ready for practice, I have faith to believe that there will be comparatively little to contend with. A woman can certainly sit in an office and draft wills, deeds, and mortgages, can prepare briefs and give advice. She can also go into court, examine and cross examine witnesses, address juries, and win her cases against experienced attorneys, as experiment has demonstrated in more than once instance . . .

. . . “Is the Court-room an improper place for women?” Legal gentlemen sometimes assure young women desiring to study, that it is so, and that “no woman could practice law and maintain the respect of members of the bar.” This is wickedly and absurdly untrue. I have sat in court all day long, day after day and week after week, and have never seen or heard anything calculated to shock a woman of refinement, excepting the marvelous expectorations of tobacco juice, which I confess were somewhat of a surprise to me. I had no idea, before, of the wonderful capacity of the human system for generating saliva. But my professional brethren are improving in this respect, and I am sanguine enough to believe that I shall live to see the day when spittoons will no longer ornament the court-room . . .

–Lavinia Goodell, Atty. at Law, Janesville, Wis.

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Rachel Frost Starkey

Lavinia’s sister, Maria Goodell Frost, is my great great grandmother. This is awesome Lavinia is awarded this recognition she deserved!! Working in the legal field myself, I find her story fascinating. So proud of my family tree!!

Joyce Hastings

Looking forward to many more blog posts to come. Thank you, Colleen and Nancy, for this rich history lesson. And, congratulations to Lavinia on her 2019 Wisconsin Legal Innovator Award. It seems appropriate that this blog is co-written by Colleen Ball, a 2016 Wisconsin Legal Innovator.

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