Readers of the May 23, 1890 edition of the Chicago Tribune may have expressed amused curiosity at the following item in the Personals section: “Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers, the terror of London cabmen, is dead.”
Who was this fearsome Mrs. Prodgers, and what did she do to cause even the heartiest of London’s cabbies to flee at the sound of her name?
The name Caroline Giacometti Prodgers first started showing up in the newspapers in 1871 in connection with a very messy divorce. Whether this triggered some inner need for justice or flamed a passion for seeing her name in print is a matter of debate. It did create a legal precedent on what to do in the rare cases where the wife is wealthier than the husband. Mrs. Prodgers had inherited a sizable estate prior to her marriage to Giovanni Battista Giacometti, the Austrian naval captain.
The divorce proceedings alone would make an entertaining study, with Mrs. Prodgers questioning the legitimacy of her own children at one point. Ultimately she found herself under court orders to pay spousal support to her former husband — something she failed to do faithfully, and for which she found herself back in court as a result.
Not long after this Mrs. Prodgers began her crusade against the London cabdrivers. Convinced that they were routinely overcharging passengers, Mrs. Prodgers memorized the London cab fare schedule. With this information at hand, she calculated the exact distance at which the fare would increase during a route and demand the cabbie stop immediately prior to that point. If the cabman attempted to charge her a higher fare, she would protest, throw a fit, invariably draw the cabbie into a swearing contest, which ultimately culminated in a lawsuit filed by the aggrieved Mrs. Prodgers.
In the course of her twenty-year crusade against overcharging cabbies, she brought more than 50 lawsuits, winning most of them. At one point a judge suggested that she might be better off simply buying her own cab, if that would make her happier.
Nothing seemed to make her happy. When newspapers began to notice her antics and reported them in less-than-favorable ways, she refused to pay for any such editions of the newspaper. She also sued her cook for having the gall to sing while on the job.
As Mrs. Prodgers’ reign of terror continued, cabbies developed a way to warn each other of her approach. “Mother Prodgers!” was the primary cry that would echo from one cabbie to another at the first sight of this overdressed, grandmotherly-looking woman. Eventually cabbies developed their own way of rebelling against Mrs. Prodgers. On Guy Fawkes Night, as other Englishmen burned Guy Fawkes in efficacy, cabbies were known to gather around a fire where an effigial Mrs. Prodgers was the guest of honor at the bonfire.
It is uncertain how many people viewed her as a tireless defender of consumer rights. What is known is that a lot of cabdrivers breathed a collective sigh of relief when they received the word to Mrs. Prodgers would not be seen again.