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Grant approved for 'Lavinia' production

Lavinia Goodell

Lavinia Goodell

The Wisconsin Law Foundation will receive a $9,452 grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council for production of a stage play exploring the life and influence of Lavinia Goodell, the first woman admitted to practice law before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The grant, announced June 25, will enable the Wisconsin Law Foundation, in cooperation with the Director of State Courts Office and Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson's office, to sponsor productions and performances of Lavinia at three venues during the spring of 2015 – Madison, Wausau, and Goodell's hometown of Janesville. A full reading of the play is also planned for Superior under the grant.

Goodell had practiced law locally in Rock County, but in 1876 the Supreme Court denied her the opportunity to handle the appeal of a probate case because she was a woman.

Lavinia, by Madison Playwright Betty Diamond, explores what it took for Goodell to overcome this challenge and to open the opportunity of the legal profession to all future generations of Wisconsin women. Working with a key group of supporters, including the Speaker of the Assembly, Goodell helped prompt introduction of legislation that prohibited gender-based discrimination in bar admissions. The legislation was signed into law on March 22, 1877, and Goodell's second application for admission to the bar was approved by the Supreme Court on April 22, 1879 on a two-to-one vote. Goodell died the following March at age 40, but her hard-won victory made it possible for women to be admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court.

Diamond wrote the script for Lavinia with support of a previous Wisconsin Humanities Council mini grant to the Director of State Courts Office. Productions of the play will be accompanied by presentations by humanities experts.

"Lavinia is informative, entertaining and valuable in improving our understanding of how equal opportunity became possible in the legal profession and other professions and careers in Wisconsin," Abrahamson said.

More information about Lavinia Goodell is available on the Wisconsin court system's website, including an article on her contribution to Wisconsin's legal history and a synopsis of the Supreme Court cases denying her petition and later accepting her admission to practice law before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council is a leading statewide resource for librarians, teachers, museum educators and civic leaders, who drive entertaining and informative programs using history, culture and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone. The Wisconsin Humanities Council also awards more than $175,000 a year over seven rounds of grants to local organizations piloting humanities programming. For more information on the Wisconsin Humanities Council, visit or connect on Facebook or Twitter at @WiHumanities.

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