Growing up in any city, it is human nature to memorize street names. I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky for the majority of my twenty two years. I lived in the east end of town, in a prosperous little city called Saint Matthews. I became very knowledgeable of my surroundings and the streets that I was constantly traveling on. Now that I am older and attending the University of Kentucky, I have had the opportunity to meet new and exciting individuals each day. I recently spoke to an older woman who lives in the neighborhood located on Henry Clay’s former Ashland Farm. The lady was a retired teacher who taught history at Breckenridge Elementary. As we spoke, she revealed impressive knowledge of Madeline McDowell Breckenridge who is one of many famous Kentucky women who fought for suffrage in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Once she dropped Mrs. Breckenridge’s name, I immediately remembered Breckenridge Lane in Louisville and finally understood the importance of the name.
Mrs. Breckenridge was born on May 20, 1872 in Woodlake Kentucky. She grew up on the Ashland Farm and was related to Ephraim McDowell and American Civil War Union General Irvin McDowell. Coming from such a distinctive family, she was raised in the spirit of emancipation and social justice. She received an excellent education in Lexington, Kentucky and Farmington, Connecticut. After that she studied from 1890 to 1894 at the State College (University of Kentucky). She married Desha Breckenridge, the editor of the Lexington Herald but never had children. On November 25, 1920, Madeline McDowell Breckenridge passed away due to Tuberculosis.
In 1908, Breckinridge became chairman of the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs, performing that duty until 1912. She successfully lobbied to allow women to vote in Kentucky school board elections, and helped secure legislation to create a state library commission and a forestry commission. In 1912, Breckinridge became president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) succeeding her cousin, Laura Clay, who founded the organization. The association became Kentucky’s leading women’s suffrage organization, advocating for women’s right to vote.
During World War I it became increasingly difficult for women to propagate their cause, as the eyes of the nation were focused on the war. Suffrage members thus increased their effort to re-evoke the interest in women’s rights. Breckinridge traveled across the American South, giving a series of speeches in all major cities there. After a long battle for the right to vote, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allowed women the right to vote under official constitutional protection, was finally passed by Congress. Its ratification in Kentucky in January 1920 was largely credited to Breckinridge’s efforts. She lived to cast her first and only vote in the November 1920 election, dying that month at the age of 48.