Madeline McDowell was born in Woodlake, Kentucky, on 20th May, 1872. After studying at the University of Kentucky (1890-94) she married Desha Breckinridge, editor of the Lexington Herald and brother of Sophonisba Breckinridge. Her husband used the newspaper's editorial pages to promote political and social causes.
Inspired by the women who had created Hull House in Chicago, Breckinridge established a social settlement at Proctor, Kentucky. She also helped establish the Women's Emergency Committee, which agitated successfully for playgrounds and kindergartens in the area.
Breckinridge, who suffered from tuberculosis, helped establish the Kentucky Tuberculosis Commission in 1912 and served as its vice-president until 1916. Breckinridge was also active in the campaign against child labour.
A supporter of women's suffrage, Breckinridge was president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (1912-15 and 1919-20) and vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) (1913-15).
Considered to be one of the movement's best orators, Breckinridge toured the country campaigning for the vote. After the passing of the 19th Amendment she concentrated on supporting the recently formed League of Nations.
Madeline Breckinridge died in Lexington, Kentucky on 25th November, 1920.