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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Treasonous Women Attorneys!

In 1876, 37-year-old attorney Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880) had the audacity to think that she ought to be able to practice her profession. When one of her cases was appealed to the state supreme court that year, she was not allowed to represent her client there. In rejecting her application, 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." When she appealed to lawmakers to create legislation prohibiting this discrimination based on gender, Ryan wrote ““The law of nature destines and qualifies the female sex for the bearing and nature of children… all lifelong callings of women inconsistent with the order of nature, and when voluntary, are treason against it.” The legislation passed in 1877, however, and was supported by the state supreme court (with chief Justice Ryan dissenting).

You can read more about Lavinia Goodell this article at Turning Points in Wisconsin History and today's entry in This Day in Wisconsin History. For more information about her and other early women lawyers in our state see "Pioneers in the Law: The First 150 Women" by Susan Steingass, on The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Web site.
:: Posted in Odd Lives on March 22, 2005

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