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Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch

Updated: Mar 13, 2022


Alice Caldwell Hegan


1901

The Century Co.


Fiction, based on true events


You could read the whole book on a direct flight from Seattle to Dallas/Fort Worth.


Overview

Humorous and feel-good account of the tragedy and hardships of true poverty at the turn of the twentieth century.


Summary

Mrs. Wiggs, an ever-cheerful widow, lives in a shanty town across the railroad tracks. Her oldest son dies, and she is left with one son and three young daughters. She and her son struggle each day to feed and clothe the family. They meet with one young woman from a local church who befriends them and volunteers in the neighborhood.


Review

The title character, “Mrs. Wiggs”, is based on a real person from a real shanty town that existed in the late 1800’s called ‘the cabbage patch’ in Louisville, Kentucky, where the author along with her mother did missionary work. It serves also as a somewhat historical account of the way of life in 1900.

There is no plot, only a series of events laid over a theme of poverty and struggle. But the author does a marvelous job of writing the events with all the quirky-ness and lingo of the people who lived accordingly, and in a way that paints an accurate picture of poverty without dwelling on it. She writes the dialect very well.


Sub-plot to the No-plot

The young woman who befriends and helps the families in the Cabbage Patch is being courted by Mr. Redding, who also becomes a benefactor to the Wiggs family. In the beginning of the book, the couple has a serious ‘misunderstanding’ regarding his character, and they cease seeing each other. At the end of the book, Mr. Redding’s character has proven to be of the upmost quality, and they reconcile and become engaged. Awwwe…


Best Line

The son had rescued a horse that was sick and about to be shot. He and his mother worked fervently to resuscitate the poor beast from the brink of death, but “the old horse had evidently seen a vision of the happy hunting-ground, and was loath to return to the sordid earth.” (P.S. The horse lived and became their pet and pulled a cart for them. They named him ‘Cuba’ and several analogies were made to the country. The title of the chapter was “The Annexation of Cuby")


Honorable Mention

Her husband had “traveled to eternity by the alcohol route.”


“a child’s sensitive soul”


“But when I don’t like folks I try to do somethin’ nice for ‘em. Seems like that’s the only way I kin weed out my meanness.”


To the Author's Credit

The book may have been a call to action. By presenting the poverty-stricken as decent, hardworking and loving, and by writing specific actions that make a positive influence in their lives, people who read the book may have become inspired to help the cause.


To the Author's Discredit

She somewhat glosses over the serious hardships and tragic consequences of poverty, and certainly the book has a bit of a Hollywood ending - happy endings all around. Of course, that may have been a requirement for publication and not any callousness on her part.


Interesting Side Note

The book contained a folded newspaper article about “The Real Mrs. Wiggs”, dated August 12, no year. The article recounts that since the publication of the book, Mrs. Bass (her real name) has been pestered by many unwanted visitors and sightseers. One day she became so frustrated that she dumped used dish water onto a “society” woman who had gotten into her bedroom. Mrs. Bass was arrested, but released by the judge without penalty, and after that things quieted down. She’s still a little resentful towards the author for “a-makin’ her into a book.”


Side note to the side note: On the back of the same newspaper article is an article regarding Episcopal Bishop Henry C. Potter’s opening up a tavern next to the subway in New York, thinking it a good way to spread the Word of Our Lord to certain group of sinners. Heavily criticized, and still he dedicated it to God Almighty. According to his Wikipedia page, it lasted a little over a year. “Temperance is promoted by everyone buying his own drinks.”


About the Physical Book Itself

The book is of very good quality and in excellent condition, thick pages with rough edges, hardcover, feels nice in my hands.





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