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Ashland, Henry Clay's Home

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Madeline McDowell Breckinridge spent 16 years living at Ashland until her marriage in 1898. Breckinridge is a descendant of Henry Clay and the powerful McDowell family. Breckinridge made a name for herself as an advocate for social change fighting for child protection laws and the rights of women. Her work built on foundations laid by her cousins Laura and Mary Barr Clay who had helped establish the women’s suffrage movement in Kentucky. Breckinridge’s 1920 funeral was held at the Ashland Estate before she was buried in the nearby Lexington Cemetery. This marker at Ashland commemorates her life and work.

Madeline M Breckinridge

Madeline M Breckinridge

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, great-granddaughter of famed Kentucky statesman Henry Clay, moved from Franklin County to the Ashland Estate in Lexington in 1882 when she was just 10 years old. She would remain at the Clay family home until after her marriage to Desha Breckinridge. Her husband was the editor of the Lexington Herald and would later use his position to assist Breckinridge in advocating for women’s suffrage and child labor laws.  

It was in 1900, just two years after her marriage, that Breckinridge was first involved in a social project. Breckinridge helped to establish a social settlement in a nearby rural town. Social settlements were generally established to improve the quality of life of residents by helping connect them with resources they may need and encouraging participation in social clubs. Due to her own tuberculosis diagnosis, Breckinridge was also a passionate advocate for the creation of hospitals and the compassionate care for tuberculosis patients. In 1912, she helped to form the Kentucky Tuberculosis Commission for this purpose.  

Breckinridge is most famous, however, for her work advocating for women’s suffrage. She served as president of the state’s Equal Rights Association for a total of 4 years and the vice president for the National American Women Suffrage Association for 2 years. Both of these positions allowed Breckinridge to spread her beliefs widely and her husband published ads and articles advocating for suffrage in the Lexington Herald.  

Breckinridge lived to see the fruition of her work with the ratification of the 19th amendment in August of 1920. She died just a few months later. Breckinridge’s funeral was held at the Ashland Estate. Today, Breckinridge is buried at the Lexington Cemetery and this marker stands in honor of Breckinridge at her former home.  

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 17th 2020.

Roe, Amy. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, Explore Kentucky History. Accessed October 17th 2020.

Social settlement, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 17th 2020.

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