Would you hire this woman?

It’s Women’s History month, so we decided to put together Lavinia Goodell’s resume and ask a few employers if they would hire someone like her. They all found her credentials impressive. One said she would definitely hire Lavinia as a lawyer, but her resume does not convey “team player.” Others wondered whether silk stocking law firms would be afraid to hire her. She could repel clients who don’t share her values. She might be better off as a sole practitioner tackling social justice issues.

For Lavinia’s full resume, click here.

Just think of it. The woman who opened the Wisconsin legal profession to women 150 years ago might have a hard time landing a job today!

Lavinia broke ceilings made of steel, not glass. But she was not doing it for herself, and she most definitely was not a loner. She implored women to study law in order to improve their position in society and to prepare for the day when they could vote:

Sooner or later women will be voters, and when the bridegroom of freedom calls, may he find wise virgins with their lamps of knowledge trimmed and burning! If every woman in the country could give even six months to a course of legal reading, the objection that women need to be educated for the ballot would be brushed aside like last year’s cobweb. Dress more simply, let the novels and magazines go, and read law, if you fancy that you have even a faint glimmering of taste for it. You will never regret the time thus spent.

Lavinia Goodell, “Shall Women Study Law?” Woman’s Journal, Vol. 6, No. 36, Sept. 4, 1875.

Lavinia was also shrewd enough to enlist the support of those in power before taking a stand on a cause. Yes, she clashed with Edward Ryan over the right of women to practice law. Read more here. But she had to persuade male lawyers, judges, legislators, and the governor to back her reforms. Otherwise, she never would have succeeded.

While Lavinia fearlessly took on the establishment in her professional writing, her personal papers reveal a brilliant, reserved woman who thought carefully before she spoke and impressed people when she did. As one Wisconsin employer observed: “Lavinia appears to have understood the politics of the day and knew how to work the system. She’d be a successful change agent in today’s world.”

So, would you hire Lavinia Goodell? We would be interested to know why or why not.


What an impressive resume and illuminating experiment! Thanks for synthesizing Lavinia’s many interests and accomplishments.

I believe that had Lavinia lived, her interests likely would have expanded to encompass many of the other progressive issues of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her father’s writings suggest an increasingly wide embrace of what we term today the “Social Gospel” and Lavinia surely showed a similar inclination. Perhaps today she would head the pro bono department of a large law firm.

It is truly unfortunate that Lavinia died as young as she did. Given her idealism, intelligence, and tenacity, had she lived into the Progressive Era she may well have been “the female Robert LaFollette, Sr.” LaFollette was a farm boy from Dane County. One can only imagine what could have been accomplished had he been able to team up with a New York transplant who had such deep roots in Progressive causes, and so many contacts on the East Coast.

I agree but think she would have been closer to Belle. I like to think it quite possible she and Lavinia crossed paths during Lavinia’s brief time in Madison and would have become compatriots in multiple progressive endeavors.

I like all the present day contact methods included.

Me too.

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