Madeline “Madge” McDowell was born on May 20, 1872 into two of Kentucky’s great families. She was the great-granddaughter of Henry Clay, the most famous Kentuckian of the 19th century, and the great-great niece of Ephraim McDowell, the famous surgeon. Her family’s wealth gave Madge opportunities beyond the reach of many women. Those opportunities included substantial education and social connections. Madge also benefitted from the support of her sisters Nannette and Julia.
Madge’s goal was to do as much good as possible in whatever time she had. She worked to provide educational opportunities to poor and working-class areas in Lexington by establishing the Lincoln School. She fought for the rights of African Americans. She created parks for outdoor recreation. She also led many organizations engaged in bettering society.
Of all the causes and projects for which Madeline McDowell Breckinridge fought, none was as near or dear to her as woman suffrage, or women’s right to vote. She was active on every level— local, state, and national. Madge also rose to positions of leadership in state and national organizations like the National American Women’s Suffrage Association.
Unfortunately, Madge suffered from poor health for most of her adult life. She battled tuberculosis and suffered a stroke at the age of 30, but still pressed on in pursuit of her causes. Madge was present on January 8, 1920 when Governor Edwin Morrow signed the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Madge was able to vote in the presidential election later that year but died from another stroke just two weeks later.