Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South
Kentucky native Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (1872–1920) was at the forefront of the suffrage movement at both the state and national levels. The great-granddaughter of Henry Clay and a descendant of several prominent Bluegrass families, Breckinridge inherited a sense of noblesse oblige that compelled her to speak for women’s rights. However, it was her physical struggles and personal losses that transformed her from a privileged socialite into a selfless advocate for the disadvantaged. She devoted much of her life to the struggle for equal voting rights, but she also promoted the antituberculosis movement, social programs for the poor, compulsory school attendance, and laws regulating child labor. In Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South, Melba Porter Hay recounts the remarkable life of this well-known vanguard of social change in the Commonwealth. The first biography of Breckinridge since 1921, this work features new primary sources, and draws on decades of research to bring the story of an extraordinary Kentucky woman to life.
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. A descendant of Henry Clay and the daughter of two of Kentucky’s most prominent families, 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, Breckinridge successfully lobbied to create parks and playgrounds and to establish a juvenile court system in Kentucky. She 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. In the first biography of Breckinridge since 1921, Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South, Melba Porter Hay draws on newly discovered correspondence and rich personal interviews with her female associates to illuminate the fascinating life of this important Kentucky activist. Deftly balancing Breckinridge’s public reform efforts with her private concerns, Hay tells the story of Madeline’s 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. Hay also chronicles Breckinridge’s ordeals with tuberculosis and amputation, and emotionally trying episodes of family betrayal and sex scandals. Hay 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, Breckinridge 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, she also supported the antituberculosis movement, social programs for the poor, compulsory school attendance, and laws regulating child labor. In bringing to life this extraordinary reformer, Hay shows how Breckinridge championed Kentucky’s social development during the Progressive Era.
Melba Porter Hay is former division manager at the Kentucky Historical Society. She is coeditor of The Papers of Henry Clay, Roadside History: A Guide to Kentucky Highway Markers, and Kentucky: Land of Tomorrow.
"Dr. Hay has made an important contribution to American history, one that is of special significance to Kentucky history, the Progressive Era, and the women's rights movement." --Paul Fuller, author of Laura Clay and the Women’s Rights Movement
“Hay brings to life a multi-dimensional woman, emblematic of her times, with whom readers can identify and sympathize.” Melanie Beals Goan, author of Mary Breckinridge: The Frontier Nursing Service and Rural Health in Appalachia
"This is a valuable study that should appeal to historians, biographers, and social activists not only for what it reveals about the life of this gifted woman, but also for what it adds to the growing understanding of reform efforts in the South in the early decades of the twentieth century." --Ohio Valley History
"History buffs will revel in the new biography’s rich detail, marvel at Madge’s pace and recognize many of the settings." --Lexington Herald Leader
"The book is not only a highly appealing story, the details and documentation are exemplary." --Kentucky Kaleidoscope
"This is a thoroughly researched and insightful biography that furthers our understanding of the critical role women played in Progressive reform in the southern states." --American HIstorical Review
"Well written and substantive, this biography revels a strong elite woman with a powerful public presence in privately struggling with poor health, child-lessness and physical disability." --The Journal of Southern History
"Hay's Madeline McDowell Breckinridge deserves a spot on the bookshelves of scholars and aficionados of the history of women, Progressivism, and Kentucky."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society