Born: January 11, 1870
Died: February 10, 1942
Alice Hegan Rice published 20 books between 1901 and 1942, but she is best known for her first: Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, a best-selling novel inspired by her work with poor children in the Cabbage Patch neighborhood of Old Louisville.
Alice Caldwell Hegan was born in Shelbyville at the home of her grandfather, Judge James Caldwell. Her parents, Samuel and Sallie Caldwell Hegan, lived in Louisville. Because of health issues, she did not start her formal education until age 10 when she entered Miss Hampton’s College, a private school in Louisville. After graduation, she embarked on several benevolent ventures that helped Louisville’s poor residents. At age 16, she served as an aide at a Presbyterian mission Sunday school in the Cabbage Patch, and that experience inspired her first book.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patchsold 650,000 copies in its first two years. The novel has been reprinted more than 50 times, translated into several languages, and was the basis for many stage, screen, and radio productions. The best known of four Hollywood movie versions was the 1934 film starring Zausa Pitts and W. C. Fields. The last was a 1942 film adaptation starring Fay Bainter as Mrs. Elvira Wiggs. Rice published two sequels: Lovely Mary (1903) and Mr. Opp (1909).
Critic and scholar Mary Boewe, in her book Beyond the Cabbage Patch: The Literary World of Alice Hegan Rice (2010), wrote that readers can see through the story “… the obvious elements of Victorianism: the virtues of domesticity, an exaltation of motherhood, the work ethic, the evils of drink, female interdependence, child-rearing techniques, child labor concerns, social welfare programs, and the intricacies of etiquette.”
Shortly after the publication of Mrs. Wiggs, Alice Hegan married established dramatist and poet Cale Young Rice on December 18, 1902. In 1910, they built a house at 1444 St. James Court, an elegant neighborhood around the corner from the Cabbage Patch. The union helped them produce dozens of literary works during the next 40 years. The couple was well known in publishing circles, and they encountered many of the literary icons of their day, including Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thornton Wilder.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch produced royalties that helped finance the couple’s travels to Japan, England, China, India, Korea, and Egypt, as well as vacations to California, Florida, and New York. In 1910, Rice and Mary Louise Marshall founded the Cabbage Patch Settlement House, which continues as a non-profit organization focused on at-risk children, youth and their families. Rice is buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch(1901)
Lovey Mary (1903)
Captain June (1907)
Mr. Opp (1909)
A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill (1912)
The Honorable Percival (1914)
Calvary Alley (1917)
Miss Mink’s Soldier and Other Stories (1918)
Turn About Tales (with Cale Young Rice) (1920)
Winners and Losers (with Cale Young Rice) (1925)
The Buffer (1929)
Mr. Pete & Co. (1933)
The Lark Legacy (1935)
Passionate Follies (1936)
My Pillow Book (1937)
Our Ernie (1939)
The Inky Way (1940)
Happiness Road (1942)