Wisconsin State Journal: Legal Eagle Rose Above Bias

Thank you so much to Barry Adams and the Wisconsin State Journal for publishing a wonderful article about Lavinia Goodell and the efforts that went into creating her digital biography. The article notes:

Lavinia Goodell was feisty and would have fit right in 100 years ago, when women were fighting for the right to vote.
The Janesville woman also would have been at home in the 1970s, during the rise of feminism and more recently as the Me Too movement helped push for social change.
But Goodell found her own way to enact change and did so in the 1870s by taking on the all-male establishment to solidify her place in Wisconsin history. In 1874, she became the first female lawyer in the state of Wisconsin when she was admitted to the Rock County Bar. She made further waves when, because she was a woman, she was denied the right to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1876. But Goodell persevered and in 1879 was granted the right to practice before the state’s highest court.

Read the full article here.

The article also notes that on December 6, 2019 the State Bar of Wisconsin awarded Lavinia a posthumous lifetime legal innovator award for opening the Wisconsin bar to women. In addition, it recounts that at the close of the legal innovator award ceremony, the 1879 certificate admitting Lavinia to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court was formally donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society by Lavinia’s relative, Beverly Wright of Bear, Delaware.

Lavinia Goodell’s 1879 certificate admitting her to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court

Steven Bates of Columbia, South Carolina, Lavinia’s great great grand nephew and an attorney who served as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, says that his family’s focus had always been on William Goodell, Lavinia’s father, an ardent abolitionist. It wasn’t until Bates visited Janesville, Wisconsin years ago that he learned of Lavinia’s importance. He explains:

Discovering Lavinia adds a whole new dimension. To find that there was someone as involved in the law and using the law to make change I think is my big take away from it. Lavinia was a name in my family tree. I didn’t know that she had a tale to tell.

Although Lavinia practiced law in Janesville for most of her career, she made frequent visits to Madison and in late 1879 she relocated to the capitol city, renting an office in Bowman’s Block at 44 Pinckney Street. (The site of the building is now the courtyard area between the Tenney Building and U.S. Bank.) Lavinia had a long, congenial relationship with the Wisconsin State Journal. In 1875 the paper reprinted her petition seeking admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and during the short time that she practiced law in Madison she ran daily business ads in the paper.

Lavinia Goodell’s business ad from the December 1879 Wisconsin State Journal

Thank you, again, to the Wisconsin State Journal, for sharing Lavinia’s story. We think she would be very pleased to know that, nearly 140 years after her death, she is enjoying a resurgence of popularity.

And special thanks to Karen Muth Fraley of TEK Consulting LLC, who designed laviniagoodell.com and manages Lavinia’s social media sites and Professor Diana Hoover, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Proprietor of Strong Heart Design, who designed the website’s beautiful graphics.

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