Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, December 16, 1920



“In such great offices that suit
The full grown energies of women.”

In the death of Madeline McDowell Breckinridge -- Mrs. Desha -- in Lexington, on last Thanksgiving Day, social workers will bear a sense of personal sorrow and a loss of gallant comradeship.

Mrs. Breckinridge represented that most modern type of woman who unites with great personal charm and social grace an abiding interest in the myriad movements which make for social betterment, and the unflagging energy with which to push them forward. Perhaps because she was a great-granddaughter of Henry Clay, she possessed an unusual eloquence and power of persuasion; perhaps because her husband was a brilliant newspaper man, she was able in a paramount degree to command the services of the press, but whatever the reason, all of her beneficent plans seemed to come to a successful issue. Few women have a larger list of achievements to be placed to their credit.

It was through her long experience in sustained and ardent work in the Charity Organization Society of Lexington, in civic leagues, in women’s clubs, on one state commission after another, that she formulated and pushed through the General Assembly of Kentucky the bills creating a State Library Commission and a Forestry Commission.

As a member of the state tuberculosis association she secured the creation of a state commission of which she was always the most valued member. After she had served as a member of the State Educational Commission appointed under an act of 1908, to prepare revision of the state school law she was largely responsible for the County School Board Law, the Small School Board Law for second class cities, the juvenile court and compulsory education laws which were practically the first of the kind in any southern state.

The present advanced Kentucky child labor law stands as a monument to her genius and energy. She also had a leading part in the passage of the state law limiting the labor of women to ten hours a day.

One of the early activities of Mrs. Breckinridge was that which resulted in the foundation of Lexington’s playgrounds and park system, and she often came to Chicago to get ideas from our small parks and playgrounds of which we were then so proud. She always left us with new suggestions and enthusiasms for what might be done with our wonderful equipment. But the visit to Chicago which I remember most vividly -- for she sometimes honored Hull House by living with us for a few days or weeks -- was in connection with her enthusiastic efforts to raise a fund of $35,000 to add to a $10,000 appropriation of the school board for the establishment of Lincoln School in the poorest part of Lexington. The vivid success of this daring experiment of a genuine social center connected with the public school perhaps better than anything else suggests her method of procedure.

All of these developed from her surpassing love for the children, which is perhaps best expressed in her own words:

We send them off to school again today,
This cool September morning. All the street
Is musical with patter of small feet
* * * *
I wonder if they ever guess or know
With what strange tenderness we watch them go?
Just children on their way to school again.

In women suffrage work I recall her eloquent speeches before Congressional committees, before doubting and hostile audiences, her charm and beauty of speech, always backed by her absolute fearlessness, which in spite of her frail physique, was physical as well as moral and intellectual.

The development of her activities was always organic and keenly alive, and as her work developed from city to state and nation, it is but fitting that she should have taken an active part in the meeting of the Woman's International Suffrage Alliance last summer in Geneva, and that her last public work should have been a plea day after day through an arduous campaign for the entry of the United States into the League of Nations. She was but once more taking her part in the age-long struggle for a world moved by good will and ordered by law in which those long under social and economic disadvantage might come into their own. Certainly no more eloquent voice or more ardent demand for justice was ever raised in their behalf.

Hull House, Chicago.