In 1866 a young factory girl began writing letters to the Richmond Dispatch about the sorry state of the then town of Manchester. The ensuing controversy whipped the rumor mill on both sides of the river into an absolute frenzy.
Perhaps the most intrigueing part of the story is that the author simply signed the letters “Struggle” which sent everyone into detective mode in an attempt to reveal the identity of the author. Little did everyone know that Struggle’s biting letters were not the work of a young factory working girl, or a girl at all for that matter. The highly witty letters were actually the work of The Bainbridge Baptist Church’s young pastor, Mr. William Hatcher under the nom de plume “Struggle.”
Struggle’s letters took issue with the condition of Manchester’s streets which she called “elongated mud holes”, the inhumane working hours in the industrial factories, the ubiquitous saloon drunks she referred to as “windeaters” who lined the sidewalks and harassed young girls as they walked by, the lack of police, and the incompetent old trustees who ran the town without accountability. You name it, no topic was off limits to Struggle.
Struggle’s letters were the talk of the town. So much so that each new letter was eagerly anticipated and sent tongues wagging on both sides of the James River upon its publishing. The letters were so popular they secured front page real estate in the Richmond Dispatch newspaper! Take a look at her first letter which is absolutely dripping with sarcasm about how “remarkable” Manchester was:
But Struggle did not stop there with the factory conditions. She kept after it until the Disptach assigned a dedicated Manchester reporter who covered the unacceptable conditions in the town, and forcing the factory owners to do away with night shifts.
But Struggle wasn’t done. Next she took on the lack of an organized street grid and poor condition of the homes which she referred to as a “peculiar instituition” which was a 19th Century way of referring to the housing as no better than slavequarters:
Struggle’s letters attracted so much attention for Manchester that significant progress began to be made. So much so in fact that the Richmond Dispatch reporter, perhaps out of a sense of competition, attacked Struggle and paid Manchester a bit of a back handed complement:
“From being a place of no note, Manchester has lately assumed a position of some little magnitude among the towns of our mother state.”
Those were fighting words for Struggle. She absolutely unloaded in her next letter with the following words for Richmond:
”Richmond…reminds me of a girl who, poorly raised, by a stroke of good fortune becomes the petted wife of some rich and stupid old bachelor. She decks herself in all the extremes of fashionable folly, assumes lofty flaunting airs and hastens to forget the humility of her origin.”
But before your criticize Pastor Hatcher-Struggle if you will-for lashing out, you have to remember that he was well aware of the times that Manchester came to Richmond’s aid. In fact, after Richmond was burned by the British during the War of 1812, Manchester provided emergency lodging to Governor Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Hatcher was also personally instrumental in helping Manchester during its formative years preceding the Civil War. And during the Civil War, he helped hold the town together while he watched Richmond burn itself down and its inhabitants came fleeing through Manchester and places further south looking for safe harbor. In Struggles opinion, Richmond had no room to talk. It had suffered the lowest of indignities in many critical Manchester eyes: self-immolation. Mr. Hatcher wasn’t about to take any course words from his big brother across the river who had just recently set himself ablaze, but was now on the path of a long, slow rebound.
And so today I see an ironically similar situation. After an exodus to the suburbs, both Richmond and Manchester are experiencing a rekindled sense of pride about their urban renewal. Perhaps we could stand for a little friendly rivalry to get the competitive juices flowing again between the two sides of the river. There is no better motivator than a little competitiion…just ask Struggle.
*Letter Credits: Willam E. Hatcher: A Biography by Eldridge Burrell Hatcher