Madeline 'Madge' Breckinridge (McDowell)

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Madeline Breckinridge (McDowell)

Birthplace: Woodlake, Franklin County, Kentucky, United States
Death: November 25, 1920 (48)
Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, United States
Place of Burial: 833 West Main Street, Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, 40508, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Major Henry Clay McDowell (USA) and Anne Brown McDowell
Wife of Desha Breckenridge
Sister of Thomas Clay McDowell; Henry Clay McDowell, II; Nanette Bullock; William Adair McDowell; Julia Prather McDowell and 1 other

Managed by: Private User
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About Madeline 'Madge' Breckinridge (McDowell)

Madeline 'Madge' Breckinridge (McDowell)

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge 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 and 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.

She was also the sister-in-law of Dr. Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge


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, Kentucky: The Democrat, 1908.

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Madeline 'Madge' Breckinridge (McDowell)'s Timeline

May 20, 1872
Woodlake, Franklin County, Kentucky, United States
November 25, 1920
Age 48
Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, United States
The Lexington Cemetery, 833 West Main Street, Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, 40508, United States