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Preeminent Kentucky reformer and women's rights advocate Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (1872–1920) was at the forefront of social change during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Breckinridge had a remarkably varied activist career that included roles in the promotion of public health, education, women's rights, and charity. Founder of the Lexington Civic League and Associated Charities, she successfully lobbied to create parks and playgrounds and to establish a juvenile court system in Kentucky. Breckinridge also became president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, served as vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and even campaigned across the country for the League of Nations. This book draws on newly discovered correspondence and rich personal interviews with her female associates to illuminate the fascinating life of this important Kentucky activist. Balancing Breckinridge's public reform efforts with her private concerns, it tells the story of her marriage to Desha Breckinridge, editor of the Lexington Herald, and how she used the match to her advantage by promoting social causes in the newspaper. The book also chronicles her ordeals with tuberculosis and amputation, and emotionally trying episodes of family betrayal and sex scandals. It describes how Breckinridge's physical struggles and personal losses transformed her from a privileged socialite into a selfless advocate for the disadvantaged. Later, as vice president of the National American Women Suffrage Association, she lobbied for Kentucky's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. While devoting much of her life to the woman suffrage movement on the local and national levels, Breckinridge also supported the antituberculosis movement, social programs for the poor, compulsory school attendance, and laws regulating child labor.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-7326-9 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-3914-2 (epub version)



Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, Public health, Women's rights, Lexington, Equal Rights, Desha Breckinridge, Lexington Herald, Tuberculosis, Amputation, Woman suffrage


Politics and Social Change | United States History


Foreword by Marjorie J. Spruill.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South
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