Madeline McDowell Breckinridge

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Madeline McDowell Breckinridge c1900

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (May 20, 1872 – November 25, 1920) was a leader of the women's suffrage movement and one of Kentucky's leading progressive reformers. She was also known as Madge Breckinridge and Mrs. Desha Breckinridge.

She was born in Woodlake, Kentucky and grew up at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, the farm established by her great-grandfather, nineteenth-century statesman Henry Clay. Her mother was Henry Clay, Jr.'s daughter, Anne Clay McDowell, and her father was Major Henry Clay McDowell (a namesake of Henry Clay), who served during the American Civil War on the Union side. They purchased the Ashland estate in 1882. One of her brothers was federal judge Henry C. McDowell, Jr.. Another, Thomas was a renowned Thoroughbred racehorse owner/breeder and trainer who won the 1902 Kentucky Derby.

Breckinridge at her desk.

She was educated in Lexington, Kentucky and at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, and at State College (now the University of Kentucky) intermittently between 1890-1894. In 1898 Madeline McDowell married Desha Breckinridge, the editor of the Lexington Herald and a brother of the pioneering social worker Sophonisba Breckinridge. The Breckinridges together used the newspaper's editorial pages to promote political and social causes of the Progressive Era, especially programs for the poor, child welfare and for women's rights.

The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed shortly before she died. She was able to vote only once in her life, in the November United States presidential election, 1920, before suffering a stroke and dying on Thanksgiving Day, at the age of 48.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (shown last year of her life) by Dixie Selden. Portrait at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate.

Key Activities and Accomplishments[edit]


Main article: Breckinridge family

Madeline married Desha Breckinridge, who came from a notable American family. The members of the family include John C. Breckinridge and Bunny Breckinridge. Madeline was also a cousin of Dr. Ephraim McDowell and American Civil War Union General Irvin McDowell. Her cousin, Laura Clay, founded the Kentucky Equal Rights Association in 1912, of which Madeline later became president.


Breckinridge, Mrs. Desha. "Women and the schools" and "The relation of the public schools to Kentucky's commercial development," in School Betterment for Kentucky. Kentucky Federation of Women's Clubs. Harrodsburg, Ky.: The Democrat, 1908.

See also[edit]

Sources and External Links[edit]

  • Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge: A Leader in the New South. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1921. A Free e-Book.

A biography:

Information on her childhood home: