The Cabbage Patch neighborhood in Louisville received its name from its combined rural-industrial nature, and its fame from Louisville author Alice Hegan Rice, who in 1901 published “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch,” a best-selling story about a poor but cheerful widow who lived by the railroad tracks with her five children. The family overcame hardships, at times with the aid of a wealthy young woman who spent much of her time helping the poor.
The concept of the wealthy young woman helping the poor became reality through the work of Mary Louise Marshall. When Louise reached her mid-teens, she took on a Sunday school class, and then began to go to the rented room where the class was held nearly every afternoon to work with the neighborhood boys. Louise’s friends began volunteering their time as well, and the after-school program began to include girls, offering a story hour, a mother’s club, and a sewing school.
The group established a not-for-profit corporation in October 1910, deciding to officially begin a settlement house called the Cabbage Patch Settlement House, known as The Patch. Louise used her family, friend, and church connections to do major fundraising for the Patch, both to buy initial property and buildings, and to support the growth, expansion, and continued activities. As the years passed, the services of the Patch expanded to include a well-baby clinic, a kindergarten and a nursery; organized athletics, field trips and camps, and more activities for adults. The Patch became a community center, providing an unemployment relief bureau, a commissary, apartments, rummage sales, and a library.
Louise Marshall took her position at the Cabbage Patch seriously – she was hands-on, focusing on one-to-one contact with the children and families; she focused particular attention on several of her young charges in whom she saw real potential, hand-picking them to do work for her, and even providing college education funds for some of them. It was her wish that they would eventually take over the running of The Cabbage Patch, and she felt sure that they would continue to run it the way she envisioned. As the Cabbage Patch grew, and as Louise aged, she did not lead every class or activity, but she did check every one, daily. Louise was a constant presence, and was not shy about correcting behaviors or practices that she found flawed. Despite her demanding and fastidious nature, or perhaps because of it, the children Louise worked with remember her with loyal admiration and affection. The Cabbage Patch Settlement House continues to operate today near 6th and Magnolia Streets.