From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
Alice Caldwell (Hegan) Rice, author, was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky , on January 11, 1870, to Samuel Watson and Sallie P. (Caldwell) Hegan. She attended a private school in Shelbyville and Miss Hampton's College in Louisville, where she began writing. During that time she wrote a parody of Reveries Of A Bachelor by Ik Marvel, which the Louisville Courier-journal published. She and several other women in Louisville organized an authors' club, where they discussed writing and read their works aloud.
At a time when reformers and settlement house workers were calling attention to the living conditions of the urban poor, Hegan began volunteer social work in a truck-farming area south of Oak Street and west of Sixth Street known as the Cabbage Patch. There she taught a boys' Sunday school class at a city mission of the First Christian Church. Inspired by a resident of the desperately poor area, Mary Bass, Hegan transformed her into the fictional Mrs. Wiggs, a widow with five children who lived in dire poverty and had many misfortunes, but who faced life with steadfastness, cheerfulness, and hope. Mrs. Wiggs took in washing and her children -- Jimmy, Billy, Asia, Australia, and Europena -- sold kindling to try to forestall the landlord from foreclosing on the family home.
In 1901 Hegan introduced her novel Mrs. Wiggs Of The Cabbage Patch to the authors' club. She submitted her manuscript to a publisher, and within six months of publication, 10,000 copies a month were being printed -- later 40,000 copies per month. The novel was a best-seller for two years. It was translated into French, Spanish, Norwegian, Danish, German, Japanese, and braille. Mrs. Wiggs was such an international success that Louisvillian Anne Crawford Flexner helped adapt the novel for a stage play presented at Macauley's Theatre in 1903. The Courier-journal proclaimed the play "a distinct success," and it ran for seven years in the United States and for two in England. Mrs. Wiggs also spawned four movies. The first two (1919 and 1926) were silent movies. The 1934 film, featuring W.C. Fields and Zasu Pitts, had its world premiere at the Rialto Theatre on Fourth Street in Louisville. It was proclaimed "the literary event of the season." A fourth film adaptation premiered in December 1942 at the Strand Theater in Louisville, and Louisville actress Fay Bainter won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mrs. Wiggs in this version.
On December 18, 1902, Hegan married Cale Young Rice , a poet, playwright, and philosopher from Louisville. Samuel McClure, publisher of Mcclure's Magazine, bought Cale Rice's first book soon after the wedding and invited the Rices to accompany him on a vacation trip to Europe. Alice Rice's novel Sandy (1905) was a fictional portrayal of McClure and his career. On the trip, she met and formed a friendship with social reformer and muckraker Ida Tarbell.
Alice Rice wrote twenty books, including several sequels to Mrs. Wiggs, most notably Lovey Mary (1903). Her personal favorite was Mr. Opp (1909), in which the title character to all outsiders appeared a failure, yet saw himself as a success in the world, one who refused to recognize defeat. Mrs. Wiggs's observation at the end of the novel expressed this kind of optimism: "Looks like ever'thing in the world comes right, if we jes' wait long enough!" Rice wrote in her autobiography The Inky Way (1940) That She Did Not Want To Record Life's Tragedy. Rather She Wanted Her Autobiography "to Follow, Through A Long life, the course of an inky way that happened to follow a flowery path." Her posthumously published work Happiness Road was described by the New York Herald Tribune as "an exercise in the discipline of happiness."
The Rices built a house in 1910 at 1444 St. James Court, where for thirty years she played the role of gracious hostess. Throughout her life, Rice was involved in philanthropic work. In 1910 Louise Marshall founded the Cabbage Patch Settlement on Sixth Street, a settlement house to reach out to the poor families in the urban neighborhood. Rice was a member of its first board. During World War I, she served as a hospital volunteer at Camp Zachary Taylor . She used that experience as a source for her 1921 novel Quin. Rice supported prohibition and served on the Kentucky State Committee of Law Enforcement.
During the 1920s, Rice collaborated with her husband on two books of short stories. In the 1930s the Rices suffered illness and financial reversals, and her works from that time were written under the burden of financial necessity: Mr. Pete & Co. (1933), a picaresque tale of the Louisville waterfront; Passionate Follies (1936), written with her husband; My Pillow Book (1937), a book of devotions and comments on life. In 1937 she received an honorary doctor of literature degree from the University of Louisville. Rice died on February 10, 1942, and was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.
GAIL HENSON, Entry AuthorSelected Sources from UK Libraries:
Rice, Alice Caldwell Hegan. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. New York: Published by the Century, 1901. Print.
F R36 1st ed., Special Collections Research Center - Fiction Collection
Boewe, Mary. Beyond the Cabbage Patch : The Literary World of Alice Hegan Rice. Louisville: Butler, 2010. Print.
PS3535.I2145 Z6 2010, Young Library - 5th Floor
Rice, Alice Caldwell Hegan. Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice Notebooks. Print.
50M32, Special Collections Research Center - Manuscripts Collection