She was born in Woodlake, Kentucky and grew up at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, the farm established by her great-grandfather, nineteenth-century statesman Henry Clay. Her mother was Henry Clay, Jr.'s daughter, Anne Clay McDowell, and her father was Major Henry Clay McDowell (a namesake of Henry Clay), who served during the American Civil War on the Union side. One of her brothers was federal judge Henry C. McDowell. In 1898 Madeline McDowell married Desha Breckinridge, the editor of the Lexington Herald and a brother of the pioneering social worker Sophonisba Breckinridge.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed shortly before she died. She was able to vote only once in her life, in the November United States presidential election, 1920, before suffering a stroke and dying on Thanksgiving Day, at the age of 48.
Madeline married Desha Breckinridge, who came from a notable American family. The members of the family include John C. Breckinridge and Bunny Breckinridge. Madeline was also a cousin of Dr. Ephraim McDowell and American Civil War Union General Irvin McDowell. Her cousin, Laura Clay, founded the Kentucky Equal Rights Association in 1912, which Madeline later became president of.
Breckinridge Family Papers at the Library of Congress http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?faid/faid:@field(DOCID+ms997003)
Information on her childhood home: http://www.henryclay.org/