Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch is a cheerful body who gives her daughters geography names like Asia, Australia, and Europena. She lives in the Cabbage Patch, a run-down neighborhood near a railroad track in Louisville. Mrs. Wiggs lives with her five children in a house that’s the pride of the neighborhood because it has a real tin roof. Of course, one of the boys made it from flat tin cans, but it sure sounds nice when it rains!
The story of Mrs. Wiggs is a story of hope in the face of abject poverty. She is ever hopeful and most things turn out all right. She tends to see the world a bit through rose-colored glasses, however. Her memories of her deceased husband, for example, differ quite sharply from both her children’s memories and from reality.
It’s also a story of the progressive social movement of the late Nineteenth century. Mrs. Wiggs is befriended by a wealthy young woman who spends much of her time in the Cabbage Patch. Besides delivering food baskets, this young reformer gives encouragement and comfort at the same time that she learns a few things about herself.
Mrs. Wiggs is a story of class distinction –– if you read this book, expect to see outdated and offensive terminology more than twice. I think the story could stand as well without it, but I wasn’t writing the book through the lens of 1901. I’m looking at it more than 100 years later. And time changes things.
Upon its publication Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was very popular. In fact, even though it was published in 1901, new copies were still being sold in 1926. The book was later republished in 1961 and sold as a children’s book by Whitman. What made Whitman think this was a children’s book, I have no idea. I first read Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch as a ten year old when someone gave me a used copy of that Whitman printing.
Read it for yourself
This book is more a novella than a novel. It takes only a couple hours to read. In fact, it was such a quick read that I sought out two separate copies to make sure they were complete. They are. You can read or download it at Project Gutenberg or you can download the book in PDF, text, or epub formats from the Library of Congress. Or, if you like, you can purchase a reprint from your favorite bookseller.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was written by a regional author, Alice Caldwell Hegen Rice. Born in Kentucky, she visited an area in Louisville that revealed to her the life of the underprivileged. That trip became the basis for her book.
Rice went on to publish several books. You can find ten of her works on Project Gutenberg if they interest you.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was made into four different movies as well as a stage play. Here’s a link to the 1919 silent version on Youtube. Normally a movie like this would have music with it. Perhaps a solo piano player or even a small group of musicians. However, this one is truly silent.
If Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch isn’t your thing, you might like The Harvester or Motor Maids School Days. All three take place in the same ten-year span or so, and they are all very different reads.