Unusual, Strange & Funny Judicial Decisions and Opinions logo It should of being just another routine call to the bar by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. Before it was the spunky Miss Rhoda Lavinia Goodell, not only of good character but with excellent academic results in her study of the law to present to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin which, in that jurisdiction, is the gatekeeper for the practice of law. Unfortunately for her in some respects,all of this happened on December 14, 1875 and there were already two precedents for rejecting a female candidate; Mrs. Bradwell and Mrs. Belva Lockwood, who was were both refused admission, in Chicago, 1869, and Washington, D.C., 1874, respectively because they were married woman and in accordance with the law at the time, could not contract.

Although Lockwood would eventually get admitted, as had Belle Mansfield, Charlotte Ray and Clara Martin, this was Goodell's turn to face the music. Goodell, who was not married, but like Bradwell and Lockwood before her, had a attorney-sponsor, I.C. Sloan who argued his Ms Goodell's candidacy using words difficult to understand today:

That a union of the peculiar delicacy, refinement, and conscientiousness attributed to woman, with the decision, firmness, and vigor of man, are not only desirable but necessary in promoting the proper administration of justice in our courts.

In an astonishing judgment of Chief Justice Edward G. Ryan, the candidacy of Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880) was rejected:

We find no statutory authority for the admission of females to the bar of any court of this state. And, with all the respect and sympathy for this lady which all men owe to all good women, we cannot regret that we do not.

We cannot but think the common law wise in excluding women from the profession of the law. The profession enters largely into the well being of society; and, to be honorably filled and safely to society, exacts the devotion of life.Lavinia Goodell

The law of nature destines and qualifies the female sex for the bearing and nurture of the children of our race and for the custody of the homes of the world and their maintenance in love and honor. And all life-long callings of women, inconsistent with these radical and sacred duties of their sex, as is the profession of the law, are departures from the order of nature; and when voluntary, treason against it.

The cruel chances of life sometimes baffle both sexes, and may leave women free from the peculiar duties of their sex. These may need employment, and should be welcome to any not derogatory to their sex and its proprieties, or inconsistent with the good order of society.

But it is public policy to provide for the sex, not for its superfluous members; and not to tempt women from the proper duties of their sex by opening to them duties peculiar to ours.

There are many employments in life not unfit for female character. The profession of the law is surely not one of these. The peculiar qualities of womanhood, its gentle graces, its quick sensibility, its tender susceptibility, its purity, its delicacy, its emotional impulses, its subordination of hard reason to sympathetic feeling, are surely not qualifications for forensic strife.

Nature has tempered woman as little for the juridical conflicts of the court room, as for the physical conflicts of the battle field.

Womanhood is moulded for gentler and better things. And it is not the saints of the world who chiefly give employment to our profession. It has essentially and habitually to do with all that is selfish and malicious, knavish and criminal, coarse and brutal, repulsive and obscene, in human life. It would be revolting to all female sense of the innocence and sanctity of their sex, shocking to man's reverence for womanhood and faith in woman, on which hinge all the better affections and humanities of life, that woman should be permitted to mix professionally in all the nastiness of the world which finds its way into courts of justice; all the unclean issues, all the collateral questions of sodomy, incest, rape, seduction, fornication, adultery, pregnancy, bastardy, legitimacy, prostitution, lascivious cohabitation, abortion, infanticide, obscene publications, libel and slander of sex, impotence, divorce: all the nameless catalogue of indecencies, la chronique scandaleuse of all the vices and all the infirmities of all society, with which the profession has to deal, and which go towards filling judicial reports which must be read for accurate knowledge of the law.

This is bad enough for men. We hold in too high reverence the sex without which, as is truly and beautifully written, le commencement de la vie est sans secours, le milieu sans plaisir, et le fin sans consolation, voluntarily to commit it to such studies and such occupations.

Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istis (not such aid nor such defenders does the time require), should juridical contests be upheld.

Reverence for all womanhood would suffer in the public spectacle of woman so instructed and so engaged. This motion gives appropriate evidence of this truth. No modest woman could read without pain and self abasement, no woman could so overcome the instincts of sex as publicly to discuss, the case which we had occasion to cite supra, King v. Wiseman. And when counsel was arguing for this lady that the word person necessarily includes females, her presence made it impossible to suggest to him as reductio ad absurdum (disproof of a proposition by showing that it leads to absurd or untenable conclusions) of his position, that the same construction of the same word would subject woman to prosecution for the paternity of a bastard, and to prosecution for rape.

Discussions are habitually necessary in courts of justice, which are unfit for female ears. The habitual presence of women at these would tend to relax the public sense of decency and propriety.

If, as counsel threatened, these things are to come, we will take no voluntary part in bringing them about.

Well, sir, aka old fogey chief judge Edward G. Ryan, with respect, the State Assembly of Wisconsin got wind of your judgment and passed a law that expressly allowed for the certification of women lawyers. Goodell was the first one in, finally called to the State Bar of Wisconsin in 1877.

Goddell had a short career, dying of cancer at the young age of 41.

Postscript: In many Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, circa 2011 (not a typo), all women must have a male guardian, usually their husband. They cannot drive cars, vote or show their faces in public.

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