Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge

Name of Historic Site
Lexington Cemetery
Event(s) / Use associated with woman/group/site
Burial site for Sophonisba P. Breckinridge (1866-1948)

833 W Main St
Lexington, 40508
United States

Associated Organization
Lexington Cemetery
Years of Importance
Geographic Location
Your Affiliation
Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project
Additional Comments

Sophonisba "Nisba" Preston Breckinridge (1 April 1866 - 30 Jul 1948) graduated from Wellesley College with a mathematics degree and in 1892 was the first woman to pass the Kentucky bar. Her attempt to open a law practice in Lexington was not successful so she left to earn a Masters degree in political science and in economics at the University of Chicago - the first woman to do so. When she graduated from Chicago's School of Law with a J.D. in 1904, she was top in her class - and the first woman admitted to the Coif. She taught economics, policy and legal affairs in the University of Chicago's Department of Household Administration - and spent much of her vacation time working at the Hull House, a settlement home in the city. She also helped found the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League and the Chicago Chapter of the NAACP. She was an early member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and in 1911 was elected as a national vice-president. In 1914 she ran for the seat of alderman representing the 7th Ward in Chicago - but lost in the primaries. She helped Jane Addams and others start the Women's Peace Party (serving as treasurer), and she joined the American delegation of the International Congress of Women (ICW) held at The Hague in 1915 which led to the creation of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

When philanthropist/reformer Julia Lathrop created the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, Breckinridge was appointed dean. She and Edith Abbott, a former student of hers, began using research to train social workers in the field while taking graduate classes in research. In 1920 she was serving as acting president and negotiated with the president of the University of Chicago to merge her school into a new unit there. The University of Chicago's Graduate School of Social Service Administration was the first graduate school of social work in the country to be affiliated with a major university. In addition to adding new curriculum to the social workers' training, she introduced the case study method of instruction - a pedagogical approach used by law schools. By the 1920s she and Abbot had established The Social Service Review, the first scholarly journal dedicated to social work issues. She became a full professor of Social Economy in 1925 and in 1929 she became U. of Chicago's Samuel Deutsche Professor of Public Welfare Administration. She retired from the University when President Roosevelt in 1933 sent her as a delegate to the 7th Pan-American Conference in Uruguay - making her the first woman to represent the U.S. government at an international conference. She published many scholarly and journalistic works throughout her life, including a biography of her sister-in-law, the suffragist Madeline McDowell Breckinridge. She died in Chicago in 1947, and was buried in the Breckinridge plot in the Lexington Cemetery, Section O, Lot 126.

Reference Source of Information
Jabour, Anya. “Relationship and Leadership: Sophonisba Breckinridge and Women in Social Work,” Affilia 27 (February 2012): 22-37.

Hammond, Claire Holton. "Sophonisba Breckinridge (1866-1948)" in A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists, edited by Robert W. Dimand; Mary Ann, Dimand; and, Evelyn L. Forget (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2000): 81–89.

"Sophonisba Breckinridge," Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 1, edited by Edward T. James, et al. (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971): 232-245.