Lena Madesin Phillips

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Lena Madesin Phillips
Born (1881-09-15)September 15, 1881
Nicholasville, Kentucky United States
Died May 22, 1955(1955-05-22) (aged 73)
Marseille, France
Occupation American lawyer and clubwoman
Parent(s) Alice Phillips and Judge William Henry Phillips

Lena Madesin Phillips (September 15, 1881 - May 22, 1955) was a lawyer and clubwoman who founded the National Business and Professional Women's Clubs in 1919 and by 1930 the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.

Background and early life[edit]

Anna Lena Phillips was born on September 15, 1881 in Nicholasville, Kentucky; she was the daughter of Judge William Henry Phillips and Alice Phillips of Jessamine County, Kentucky. From a young age, Phillips wanted to step outside of the normal gender-based roles, and this led to her thirst to obtain knowledge. At age 7 she enrolled in the Jessamine Female Institute where she studied everything offered, including music. When Phillips was at age 11, she changed her name to Madesin in order to recognize her brother who was studying medicine in Paris, France at the time. At age 18 when she graduated, she received Magna Cum Laude from the Jessamine Female Institute.[1]

College life[edit]

After Lena Madesin Phillips graduated from the Jessamine Female Institute, she and her mother traveled to Baltimore, Maryland in order to enroll and attend the Woman's College of Baltimore (now called Goucher College), where she wished to study music and other subjects. Throughout her youth, Phillips showed extreme motivation towards her school and extracurricular activities. This motivation and relentlessness would only increase once she was enrolled in the Woman's College of Baltimore. Phillips was so devoted to her studies of music and her extracurricular activities that she got sick from exhaustion. While recovering in Kentucky she fell and hurt a nerve in her arm. The doctors informed her she needed to stop playing music for an extended period of time, and she was forced to drop out of the Woman's College of Baltimore. Upon her return home in Kentucky, she was offered a job at her alma mater, Jessamine Female Institute for teaching music at 500 dollars a year.

Soon after that, Phillips began studying law at the University of Kentucky and made the twelve mile trip to Lexington everyday from Nicholasville. In her free time she constantly helped her father with maintaining his public image, for he was constantly involved with the political scene in Jessamine County and Kentucky as a whole. It was her father's political career that led her interests towards political and economical ideas and thus to the law school. While at the University of Kentucky, many of the students in her class did not like the idea of having a woman in the law school. However at the end of the first semester, the men in her class stopped questioning her because she received all As and took 21 hours of class, when the average was 12 hours of class for each semester. When she graduated from the University of Kentucky Law School in 1917, she was the first woman to graduate with full honors and she had the highest marks for her entire law class. After Phillips graduated for the University of Kentucky Law School she opened her own firm in Nicholasville, Kentucky and as it grew in size, so did her desire for something bigger.

National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs of the United States[edit]

Lena Madesin Phillips began traveling to New York City and was continually getting more involved in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and began trying to unite the business women of the United States all together. With the help of the YWCA and her involvement in the Business Women's Committee she was successful in started the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs of the United States (NFBPWC). After starting the club, which was officially established in 1919, she was elected the first president. Soon after that she met Lisa Sergio who became her friend and companion for life.

Lena Madesin Phillips' initial goal of the club was to spread her ideas of women's equality, especially equal economic playing fields with business men in the United States. The club also addressed other issues such as child labor and international peace efforts. In 1930 the NFBPWC endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. In order to expand the reach her club throughout the nation she went on a tour of the country, giving speeches on the club's ideology. She made stops in Kansas City, Colorado, Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, and many more. Phillips never stopped working and several times during her life she began to look sick and weak as she did during her first college experiences. However she never rested when there was work to be done, despite warnings from her family and closest friends. Phillips believed there was always work to be done.[2]

International Federation of Business and Professional Women[edit]

Lena Madesin Phillips was able to finance and construct two trips to Europe known as the "Goodwill Tours" in 1928 and 1929 in order to reach an international level.[3] The first trip that Phillips and her colleagues went on to Europe included stops in England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and sight-seeing all across the continent. The mission of the trip was to talk to as many professional business women as possible and discuss the possibility of starting a club in European countries. Lena Madesin Phillips would never stop giving up on her dream of women's equality and she was certain that economic equality would bring about women's equality in education, social, and political aspects of society. Phillips went back to Geneva, Switzerland and on August 26, 1930, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women was formed and shortly thereafter, Lena Madesin Phillips was named as the first president of the IFBPW, which she served as until 1947. After being named the first president of the BPW International she was quoted saying, " ...if our motive is right, if we have faith, vision and courage, accomplishment must come."[4]

In order to guarantee the success of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women's clubs, Lena Madesin Phillips made several trips back and forth to Europe. Records from the New York passenger lists demonstrate Phillips non-stop traveling to Europe throughout her time as president and after. Phillips is on record for departing from France, Italy, and England on a constant basis from 1928 until the end of her life in 1955.

Later years and death[edit]

Lena Madesin Phillips never stopped working, regardless of the bodily harm or mental strain she put on herself. Her life's work was to bring about the equality of women through an economic mean and she was able to accomplish her goal on an international level through the creation of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women's group that she founded in 1930. She continued her work until the very end of her life. She died while traveling to the Middle East to meet with women and died while in France. Her body was sent back to her original home in Jessamine County, Kentucky and she was buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky.[5] No matter what Lena Madesin Phillips did in her life, if it was music, law school, or trying to change the gender gap between men and women in the business world, she gave everything she had. This mind set is what led Phillips to be able to accomplish many things in her life, including the creation of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.


  1. ^ Sergio, Lisa. A Measure Filled, the Life of Lena Madesin Phillips: Drawn from her Autobiography (New York: Robert B. Luce Inc., 1972), 9.
  2. ^ Sergio, Lisa. A Measure Filled, the Life of Lena Madesin Phillips: Drawn from her Autobiography (New York: Robert B. Luce Inc., 1972), 72-73.
  3. ^ "BPW International". Retrieved 15 November 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ Sergio, 6.
  5. ^ "Lena Madesin Phillips". Retrieved 11 February 2015. 

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