March 23, 2009
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v2.1 Reference

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South

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.

About the Authors

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"—

9780813125329 : madeline-mcdowell-breckinridge-and-the-battle-for-a-new-south-hay-spruill
368 Pages
$45.00 USD

Other Titles by Melba Porter Hay

The Papers of Henry Clay

Henry Clay, edited by Melba Porter Hay
Jul 2014 - University Press of Kentucky
$100.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Roadside History

edited by Melba Porter Hay, Thomas H. Appleton, Jr.
May 2002 - Kentucky Historical Society, an imprint of University Press of Kentucky
$19.95 USD - Paperback / softback


edited by Thomas H. Appleton, Jr., Melba Porter Hay, James C. Klotter, Thomas E. Stephens
Jul 2001 - University Press of Kentucky
$29.95 USD - Hardback

Other Titles by Marjorie J. Spruill

Southern Women in the Progressive Era

Giselle Roberts
Feb 2019 - University of South Carolina Press
$59.99 USD - Hardback
$59.99 USD - Electronic book text

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Oct 2019 - University Press of Kentucky
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Sep 2019 - University Press of Kentucky
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