Mrs. Clay was the daughter of Col. William H. and Zaenett Russell. She was the only girl out of seven children. She traveled often with her father as a child. She kept an album for signatures of the great people she met on these trips. He book featured the signatures of Dolly Madison, Henry Clay, Samuel Colt and more. Her family had close ties to Henry Clay. She would go on to marry first his grandson and then his son.
Josephine married Eugene Erwin, a grandson on Henry Clay on July 10, 1853. They resided in Missouri and had three daughters that survived to adulthood. Eugene joined the confederate army in 1861. Though Josephine opposed the war, she would latter join her husband side at Vicksburg, saved his units battle flag, which she would send to reunions later in life. In 1863, Josephine was determined to join her husband at the front. She left her two youngest daughters with her mother and she traveled with her nine year old to Grand Gulf Mississippi. She stayed with her husband throughout the Vicksburg Campaign. On June 25, 1863, Col. Eugene Erwin was killed at Vicksburg; He was 32 years old. General Grant issued a travel pass for Josephine and her daughter and gives them $50 in greenbacks for their travel back to Missouri. Even though he was helping her, she refused to shake Gen. Grant’s hand. Josephine smuggled out her husband’s unit’s battle flag by sewing it into her petticoat.
Josephine moved to Lexington with her Children in 1865. She married John M. Clay, youngest son of Henry Clay, on July 8, 1866. She became John’s partner in the management of the horses and other livestock at Ashland on Tates Creek. It is said that she once had rode and won a private match race for her husband. John traveled to racetracks throughout the east acting as owner, trainer and stable hand for his horse, while Josephine managed the farm.
On August 10, 1887, John M. Clay died of a stroke. Josephine inherited his house, acreage, and 12 broodmares. John was buried at Lexington Cemetery with a large monument at the bottom of the hill where his mother and father were buried. After John’s death, Josephine became the first woman to manage a thoroughbred horse farm in Kentucky. Unable to join the Jockey Club, Lexington Racing Association, and other clubs in the industry, she frequented the Phoenix Hotel. This is where the equestrians congregated. She was even known to join in the occasional poker game. She was a breeder exclusively. Selling Colts and keeping the fillies for breeding. She increased the number of broodmares from 12 to 50. Her horses won Derbies and fetched high prices. She used her profits to invest in her farm and increase her land holdings. While busy running a successful breeding farm, she was also writing novels. Her first book was published in 1873, and her last book in 1912.
In 1903, due to issues with her eyesight, Josephine decided to sell her stock. On November 18, 1903, she offered for sale 38 of the 52 horses she owned and offered to lease most of her land. The sale was not a great success due to other prominent sales in the area that day. Her thirty- eight horses sold for $7,790 an average of $205 a head. During the years of her retirement, she continued to be active in expanding her property.
She passed away on March 29, 1920.