1877 – Lavinia Goodell Opens the Door for Women Lawyers

On this date, due to persuasive efforts, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill . Born in Utica, New York, in 1839, Goodell was the daughter of abolitionist William Goodell. She moved to Janesville in 1871 where she began studying law at the age of 32. She gradually made a place for herself in the firm of Jackson and Norcross and was admitted to the bar in Rock County in June 1874, after a local circuit judge decided that women could be admitted. Though she maintained a general practice, she took particular interest in defending the rights of married women, penal legislation, and prison reform. In 1875, one of her cases was appealed to the state supreme court but she was not allowed to represent her client there. In rejecting her request to practice her profession, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward G. Ryan wrote, “Nature has tempered woman as little for the juridicial conflicts of the court room, as for the physical conflicts of the battle field.” Goodell then worked with the legislature to pass and defend enabling legislation. After the legislature passed it, she reapplied for admission to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court and her petition was granted on June 18, 1879, with Judge Ryan dissenting. [Source: “Admission to Bar of First Woman Attorney Raised Question Never Settled.” (14 September 1924)]