Madeline McDowell Breckinridge

Historical Marker #1876 in Lexington recognizes the contributions of Madeline McDowell Breckinridge to the women's suffrage movement.

The marker is located on the grounds of Ashland, the estate of Henry Clay. Madeline Breckinridge was the great-granddaughter of Henry Clay, and a cousin to Kentucky suffragist Laura Clay. Madeline was born in Franklin County on May 20, 1872. At age ten, she lived at Ashland. She lived there until a short time after her 1898 marriage to Desha Breckinridge, who was the editor of the "Lexington Herald."

Madeline, a tireless social reformer who spent her entire adult life in service to others, made her contributions while battling tuberculosis which had caused the amputation of her foot. Her early social reform work focused on children. She fought for child labor laws, schools, playgrounds, and hospitals. Her eventual involvement in the women's suffrage movement was, in part, a way to promote these other social programs. She served two terms as president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) in 1912 and 1919, and was vice-president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1913-1915.

Her involvement at the national level involved a grueling travel schedule throughout the country. She became well known for her excellent oratorical skills, which many said came from her descent from the "Great Compromiser," Henry Clay. The 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment by the Kentucky legislature has been credited to her tireless effort.

Madeline died on Thanksgiving Day, November 25th, 1920. Newspapers reporting her death called her Kentucky's "most distinguished woman citizen," and one of the "greatest women orators in the U.S." Her funeral was held at Ashland, and she is buried in the Lexington Cemetery.

The marker reads:


This descendant of Henry Clay and Ephraim McDowell was born 1872 in Franklin Co.; grew up at "Ashland," Clay's home; and married Desha Breckinridge, editor of Lexington Herald. Ill with tuberculosis, she promoted its treatment and cure; advanced educational opportunities for poor children in Lexington and entire state; and helped gain voting rights for women. Over.


Madeline McDowell Breckinridge saw woman suffrage as a way to advance social reform. Served as pres. of Ky. Equal Rights Assoc. 1912-15 and 1919-20; vice pres. of National American Woman Suffrage Assoc., 1913-15. Ratification of 19th amendment by Ky. legislature, 1920, largely credited to her efforts. She died same year, after amendment passed. Buried in Lexington Cem.

This marker was dedicated on October 20, 1992.