A Closer Look
The Janesville Women's Club
And Janesville's Iconic Women
Story by Teresa Nguyen
“The equal right of Woman to social, civil and political equality, has always been to me like an axiom which it were as idle to dispute as to undertake to controvert the multiplication table.” – Lavinia Goodell, 1875
The Making of Great Women
Strong women step up. They speak out, they stay determined and work hard to make a difference around them, even in the face of ridicule. Above all, strong women never quit!
Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelet, Rosa Parks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg have all inspired us...and the list goes on! These women did not become great by being quiet and fitting comfortably into society’s “ideal woman”. They became great because they stood up and spoke up. They worked incredibly hard, sacrificed, knocked down stereotypes with their courage and boldly stood by their convictions. They did so in spite of mockery, even hatred. They fought back, marched ahead and earned our respect with their inner strength and brave ambition. They never gave up on their goals.
The truth is unfortunate and frustrating, especially considering how long women have fought for respect in a dominantly male world. Every woman, even today, has faced at least one person doubting her abilities. Every woman has had someone put her down for no good reason, often born of jealousy, envy or because someone felt threatened by her strength, power or influence.
Every woman has endured some form of sexism, moments when she's been made to feel like an object in the room or that her contributions were not worthy of consideration. All women have, at some point in their lives, had their amazing or creative ideas ignored, discarded or ridiculed.
But throughout history, we have seen great women prove themselves in the face of these challenges, reminding us that those who mock or hate should be careful and open their eyes…for the very women they mock are marching right past them!
Historically, in our own community, we have always had women who rose to the occasion, who set higher goals than what was expected of them. The names Lavinia, Frances, Julia, Carrie, Emma, Ruth and Dolly should be familiar. If they are not familiar, this story gives us the chance to learn "her story".
They were each extraordinary examples of the strength of Janesville women and it is our community tradition to honor and respect them. If there is any woman doubting herself, her goals, her ability to face the challenges - any woman who is being held back by those who don’t believe in her - she need only look around to see her role models.
The following are just a few of our community icons. Today’s great women of Janesville strive to follow in the remarkable footsteps of these inspiring female role models.
Rhoda Lavinia Goodell (1839 – 1880)
First Licensed Female Attorney in Wisconsin.
Born in New York to prominent abolitionist, William Goodell, Lavinia worked at her father's newspaper.
While studying at seminary, Lavinia wrote a paper called "The Responsibility of the North for Slavery" and wrote:
"The North being a majority have more power than the South...they are therefore responsible for slavery if their power is not exerted against it."
As many New Yorkers did, Lavinia traveled west to Wisconsin. She arrived in Janesville in 1871 and then studied law on her own.
By 1874, Lavinia was admitted to the Rock County, Wisconsin bar!
In 1876, The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied her petition for admission to the state bar.
Chief Justice Edward Ryan wrote: “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…”
Goodell attacked his response in both the local and national press, and drafted an argument to prohibit gender discrimination in the practice of law. Goodell lobbied for the male legislators and male governor to pass and sign such a bill.
In her argument, Goodell pointed out that proper administration of justice “would be better promoted by the admission of women to the practice of law than by their exclusion” for several reasons:
1. A class of people cannot truly obtain justice in courts where its members are not represented.
2. The inclusion of women would result in a combination of “the peculiar delicacy, refinement and conscientiousness attributed to woman with the decision, firmness and vigor of men”.
3. It was unfair to the community to curtail “free and wholesome competition of the best existing talent”.
4. It was unjust to shut out anyone with ability and interest of a lucrative and honorary profession.
The bill, authorizing women to be admitted to the state bar, was finally passed in 1877. Goodell was admitted to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1877. She triumphantly won her first case in 1880, just prior to her death from cancer.
Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (1839-1898)
Educator/Temperance and Women’s Suffrage Leader
Frances was born to Josiah Flint Willard and Mary Thompson Hill Willard near Rochester, New York.
In 1846, the family moved to Janesville, Wisconsin. In 1853 A schoolhouse was built by Josiah Willard, and Frances briefly attended classes in the schoolhouse at age 14. She taught in the school for one summer in 1858. The building was mentioned in her autobiographies and was named after her during the remodeling of the building in 1904. Frances and sister, Mary, then attended Milwaukee Normal Institute.
After moving to Evanston, Illinois, Josiah Willard became a banker. Frances and Mary went on to the North Western Female College.
Willard became involved in the temperance movement and worked her way up to serve as the national president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1879.
She worked tirelessly for the right to vote, as she stated, “to secure for all women above the age of twenty-one years the ballot as one means for the protection of their homes from the devastation (violence against women) caused by the legalized traffic in strong drink.” Willard argued that it was too easy for men to get away with their crimes without women's suffrage.
Frances also became the first president of the National Council of Women of the United State in 1888.
Her activism for women’s rights helped lead our government to adopt the Eighteenth (Prohibition) and Nineteenth (Women Suffrage) Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Julia Stowe Lovejoy (1849 – 1953)
“First Lady of Janesville”
President of the Rock County Women’s Suffrage League
Julia was born in New Haven County, Connecticut to Deacon Henry and Susan Burwell Stow (The spelling of Stow varied between Stowe and Stow through the generations).
On May 29, 1880, Julia married Allen P. Lovejoy. She was later known as the “First Lady of Janesville”. Mrs. Lovejoy also became the first president of the Rock County Women’s Suffrage League.
The Lovejoy Mansion at 220 S. Lawrence Ave in Janesville, WI
Julia also established the first Janesville kindergarten. She organized the local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and also served on the Janesville Public Library Board for several years.
Julia Lovejoy sponsored Janesville’s first hospital, started by Dr. Palmer and the Sisters of Mercy, located out of a home on Mineral Point.
Mrs. Julia Isbell Lovejoy lived in the Lovejoy Mansion until her death in 1953. She died at 103 years old.
In 1953, the YWCA needed larger quarters. Local businessman, James A. Craig, strongly supported youth activities in the area and acquired the home of the late Allen P. and Julia Stow Lovejoy at 220 S. Lawrence Ave. He then donated the large home to the YWCA of Rock County.
Carrie Jacobs Bond (1862-1946)
Singer/Pianist, Famous Composer, Songwriter
Carrie Minetta Jacobs was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, to Dr. Hannibal Jacobs and his wife, Mary Emogene (or Emma) Davis Jacobs. Carrie was an only child and, in her youth, studied piano with area teachers. She lost her father at a young age, and faced hardship and poverty in her young life.
At age 18, Carrie had a short-lived first marriage to Edward J. Smith of Janesville and had her only child, Frederick Jacobs Smith. They divorced in 1887.
She remarried in 1888 to her childhood sweetheart, physician Frank Lewis Bond of Johnstown, Wisconsin. She began writing music in the late 1880s with some encouragement from her husband, who knew that songs that were continually running through her mind.
Between the 1880s and 1940s, Carrie composed some 175 pieces of popular music!
She composed “I Love You Truly” while living on East Milwaukee Street.
It became a widely popular parlor song and Jacobs Bond became the first woman to sell one million copies!
Carrie and her son started a publishing company, The Bond Shop, and moved the business to Chicago after her husband’s death. There she also ran a boarding house, painted china, and continued to write songs, expanding The Bond Shop while living in the Windy City.
Eventually, with the help of a few musician connections, Carrie’s popularity grew and she performed for President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s.
Jacobs Bond held the highest number of sales immediately after a release with "A Perfect Day" back in 1910. The song was a popular hit for the troops during World War I.
Carrie Jacobs Bond was the most successful woman composer of her day, by some reports earning more than $1 million in royalties from her music before the end of 1910.
She was also an artist and designed the covers of her sheet music.
Her final song, “Because of the Light” was published in December 1944 at the age of 82.
In 1970, Carrie Jacobs Bond was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Emma Hodges Manning (1870 – 1954)
First Janesville City Council Woman
Emma was Born to Gilbert T. and Anna Banks Hodges in Monroe, Wisconsin. Emma attended St. Angelus College in Minneapolis, the University of Wisconsin and studied piano in Chicago.
In 1897, she married Elmer J. Manning. In 1923, Emma became the first woman elected to the Janesville City Council where she served from 1923 to 1927.
After her win, the Janesville Daily Gazette wrote “Mrs. Emma Manning is equipped for the place and her success in the face of entrenched opposition of those who do not believe a woman should seek public office, is a remarkable tribute to her splendid qualities.”
Emma was highly active in the community and became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Mrs. Manning also worked in international peace organizations.
Mrs. Manning was also a member of the Janesville Federation of Women, the Janesville Girl Scouts, the League of Women Voters, the Janesville History Club and the Janesville Woman’s Club Association.
Ruth Barbara Jeffris (1894 – 1973)
President of the Janesville Board of Education
Ruth was born the daughter of Thomas Mouat Jeffris and Harriet Abigail Hall on January 18, 1894.
Ruth was an educated woman, rare for the times. She attended Girton Academy, Winnetka, Illinois and Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York.
At age 28, Ruth was appointed to the national board of the YWCA, after leading the YWCA movement and girls’ work in Janesville.
Ruth highly valued education and she served as president of the Janesville Board of Education in the years 1938 and 1939.
Her community activism was inspiring. Ruth was a member of the Women’s History club, the State Historical Society, the Rock County School Committee and the Greater Janesville Corp.
Ms. Jeffris passed away on June 22, 1973, at the age of 79.
Mildred “Dolly” Biemiller Nowlan (1905-1996)
Board Member - The Janesville Women's Club
Dolly was born in Baltimore, Maryland to John and Katherine Biemiller. In 1927, Dolly married Hiram Nowlan and moved to Janesville in 1928.
Mrs. Nowlan was very active in the Janesville community. She was an active member and volunteer for the Janesville Art League, YWCA, Local Red Cross, Rotary Gardens, the Janesville Concert Association, and Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra and more.
Janesville Little Theatre's first full-length play, "The New Lady Bantock" - 1930
Dolly also served on the Janesville Women’s Club board and helped develop numerous programs.
The Nowlans raised funds to start the Janesville Little Theatre and donated the Nowlan-Merrill Homestead, next to the Lovejoy home, to the YWCA as a shelter for battered women and children.
The Janesville Woman’s Club
On May 7,1928 the doors of The Janesville Woman’s Club at 108 S. Jackson opened to the public. It has been quite an accomplishment for Janesville - a club of women who have diligently served our community for nearly a century!
When it all began, the land for the club was donated by Mrs. H.W.W. Macloon. George and Martha Parker donated the initial $10,000 to begin the building. Women from the Janesville Art League and Janesville Woman’s Club, as well as other clubs, raised the rest of the funds.
The club has a current membership of about 150 women.
The club’s board includes members from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Janesville Art League, Janesville Woman’s Club Association, and MacDowell Music Club. Membership meetings are typically the third Wednesday beginning in September going through May. Guest speakers, demonstrations and food are featured at every meeting.
In 1997, The Foundation for the Preservation of 108 South Jackson (FP108SJ) was established as a non-profit to maintain and preserve the historic Janesville Woman’s Club Building.
Janesville Woman’s Club houses an impressive art collection in the Elinor Mills Gallery. The Janesville Art League features numerous artists there. The league welcomes artists from all media and offers monthly programming on relevant topics. The Elinor Mills Gallery is one of several venues around the community where the Janesville Art League offers space to artists for displaying and selling their works.
The Good Work of the Women
Over the years, a variety of events occur at The Janesville Woman’s Club such as meetings, programs, book clubs, musical performances and a variety of fundraisers, which help those in our community.
At one time, The Janesville Woman’s Club provided free dental clinics and social programs for the community. Currently, funds are raised for the YWCA Alternatives to Domestic Violence Program as well as a designated local charity every month. Each December, proceeds from a lively holiday auction fund two local high school scholarships, which are awarded in May.
A Christmas performance by Tony Seibert at The Janesville Women's Club
Accompanied by Anne Weirich
Each year the club donates over $10,000 a year in scholarships, school supplies, winter clothing, other items to the needy. Over the last five years, all of the clubs who use this beautiful building donated a combined total of $55,000 to the Janesville community!
In 2019, Wisconsin celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of women’s right to vote. An event hosted by the League of Women Voters of Janesville and the Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation of Southern was celebrated in the new Towne Square, with a march through the downtown to the Janesville Performing Arts Center. There, several Janesville women presented speeches dressed as women from our Janesville and Wisconsin histories.
The women of our community, many who are members of the Women’s Club, put on a wonderful event, raising awareness of the long struggle for equality and highlighting the history of our national, state and local female leaders.
Renovations, Repairs and Groundwork
In 2018, serious gaps around the chimney of The Women's Club building were discovered. Three generous donors helped make fixing the chimney’s tuck pointing possible.
Those three donors then issued a challenge to the membership to raise another $15,000 to repair the building, its damaged walls and to seal the basement. The club was also looking to replace a climate system unit on the main floor. Fortunately, they were able to exceed their fundraising goal!
The Grounds Renewal Team worked to beautifully transform the Janesville Woman’s Club landscaping.
Winning a National Grant
In 2019, The Janesville Woman’s Club was one of 20 buildings in the running for a national grant to help with continuing restoration, repairs and landscaping projects.
A “Revive 108” campaign was launched, the votes rolled in and their open house in the fall of 2019 was highly attended.
In the end, The Janesville's Woman’s Club received the grant! Numerous repairs and new improvements were made possible from the support of the Janesville community.
The 2020 Pandemic
During 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the club from hosting its annual spring fundraiser, leaving the club short of operating funds.
The welded copper sculpture titled “Wings of Change”
The Janesville Woman’s Club got creative and, on June 10th, held an online auction titled “Quarantine Kentucky Derby - Where Masks are the New Hats”. The auction featured items such as gift certificates, baskets and original artwork by local artists Dava Dahlgran, Connie Glowacki and Nancy McKinnon.
In July of 2020, a new flag pole and American flag were donated by the Janesville Chapter of NSDAR and local veterans’ groups to the Janesville Woman’s Club. It flied prominently in the breeze at the front of the building along Jackson Street.
Continued Community Support
The Janesville Women’s Club has never closed its doors in all these decades! But the upkeep of this beautiful and historical building requires funding. The club welcomes the community’s continued support through donations, volunteering, attending events and through rentals.
People can rent out The Janesville Woman’s Club building for private events, business meetings, weddings, showers, holidays, funeral luncheons and retirement parties, to name a few.
To learn more about the Janesville Women’s Club, visit their website by clicking here:
Visit and ‘like’ their Facebook page:
"Votes for Women" Celebration Script by Lori Stottler