Madeline McDowell Breckinridge
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.
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.
Key Activities and Accomplishments
- 1908-1912 she chaired the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs.
- Successfully lobbied for allowing women to vote in Kentucky school board elections.
- 1912-1915 and 1919-1920 she served as president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association.
- 1912 she helped found the Kentucky Tuberculosis Commission and was the group’s vice president until 1916.
- 1913-1915 she served as vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
- She founded a social settlement at Proctor, Kentucky, similar to Chicago’s Hull House, advocated to establish playgrounds and kindergartens, and spoke out against child labor.
- Founded the Lexington Civic League
- She was a vocal supporter of the newly formed League of Nations.
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.
Sources and External Links
- Breckinridge Family Papers, 1752-1965, Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/eadmss.ms997003
- Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge: A Leader in the New South. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1921. A Free e-Book.
- Encyclopedia of Kentucky. New York, New York: Somerset Publishers. 1987. pp. 122–125. ISBN 0-403-09981-1.
- Fayette Equal Rights Association records, 1917-1920. University of Kentucky Libraries, Special Collections, Lexington, Kentucky.
- Hay, Melba Porter. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.
- Klotter, James C. The Breckinridges of Kentucky, 1760-1981. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.
- Madeline McDowell Breckinridge Papers, 1867, 1888-1923, 52M3, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, Kentucky.
- Woman's Democratic Club papers, 1910-1945, 1910-1945, 1920-1932 (bulk dates), 1M50W29, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, Kentucky.
Information on her childhood home: http://www.henryclay.org/