The Summer 2011 Filson Friday talks by staff members of The Filson included a two-part series entitled ‘Her’Story: Encountering Women in the Filson’s Special Collections. The blog will occasionally be featuring some of the women and women’s organizations discussed during these sessions.
The Cabbage Patch neighborhood in Louisville received its name from its combined rural-industrial nature; it was farmland until the just before the Civil War, when industries began to spring up along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad tracks. The neighborhood became famous world-wide when in 1901 Louisville author Alice Hegan Rice 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, known as Louise. Louise, born in 1888, was educated at local Louisville schools, but struggled due to vision problems; she never attended college. Louise came in contact with the Cabbage Patch through her church, the Second Presbyterian; she and her family worked enthusiastically to develop a Presbyterian mission near the Cabbage Patch. Louise’s father, Burwell K. Marshall, doubtlessly a strong influence on Louise’s life, was the superintendent of the mission’s Sunday school; when Louise reached her mid-teens, she also 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. The incorporation papers state the object of the organization was to conduct, “what is known as social settlement work; to obtain by subscriptions money and property to erect a settlement house in the City of Louisville, KY, wherein will be conducted religious services, the training of the mind and body, care for destitute children and assisting mothers in the care of their children and whatever pertains to the uplifting of people who may be brought into contact with its work.”
The Filson recently received the archives of the Patch, which document operations from its opening in 1910 through the 1980s, and provide insight on founder Louise Marshall.
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. She began a precedent of not accepting any sort of local or federal government funding, or any monies with strings attached – she wanted the freedom to run the Patch the way she saw fit. 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. The Patch also provided assistance during specific events, such as relief during the 1937 flood, and special services during World War II. A fundraising letter in September 1942 read,“Our men in the service, at home and in far away lands know that the Cabbage Patch stands as a friend at all times to their wives and children, and their mothers and fathers, in these trying times.”
Though not educated in social work, Louise took her position at the Patch seriously – she was hands-on, providing 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 Patch, and she felt sure that they would continue to run it the way she envisioned. As the 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. In her eulogy in 1981, Rev. Henry Mobley stated: "At least we all can agree on one thing: Louise Marshall was a character." Strong-willed, determined, and singularly focused; Louise was not political or nationally active the way other local and national settlement leaders were, but she did devote her entire life and being to the benefit of the children and families in the Patch. A fundraising letter from October 1941 states: “We believe that happiness was intended in the great plan of the universe for every living creature. To find this happiness, we seek to help each individual to know what their abilities are and to help them to develop them to the fullest, that they might have a well rounded life.” For Louise Marshall, that seems to sum up her story.
**The Cabbage Patch Settlement House continues to operate today, just around the corner from The Filson on 6th Street. I would like to thank Bill and Linda Raymond Ellison for their invaluable assistance with my research on Louise Marshall.