Carry Nation was the most famous (or perhaps infamous) member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She attacked saloons with a hatchet.
Overview of Carry Nation
I. The Person
II. The Activist
III. Later Years
The spelling of Nation’s first name is the source of much confusion. Both Carrie and Carry are correct. Records show it was Carrie, which Nation and others used most of her life. But the family Bible recorded it as Carry. Upon beginning her campaign against alcohol, she adopted the name Carry A. Nation. This was mainly for its value as a slogan. She even registered it as a trademark in Kansas. She also believed that it was providential and that she would “Carry A. Nation” to prohibition.1
I. Carry Nation: The Person
Nation was controversial during her life. She remains so in her death. People have described her as a religious fanatic, a crank, an exhibitionist, a misfortune, and much more. Typically, the descriptions include some suggestion of mental problems. Such as insane, “psychotic from and early age,” demented, and dominated by a “well defined strain of madness.” Suffering from a “personal history of disease and convulsion.” Or “suffering from sexual frustration.” She was clearly unconventional. But was she mentally ill? Although he never examined her, the famous psychologist Karl Menninger thought not.2
Photos of the dour Nation as well as her attacks on property and people suggest that she was mean-spirited. However, friends described her as gentle, loving and caring.
Supporting this view is the fact that she was generous to a fault. Throughout her life she extended help and hospitality to those in need. This was even when she was in no financial position to do so. And even when it created serious marital conflict. She could “laugh at her own discomfiture.”3 And, on one at least one occasion, tried to enlighten those who mocked her.4
Carrie Nation was a complex person who is easy to stereotype but difficult to understand. She was born November 25, 1846, in rural Kentucky. Her parents were George and Mary Moore. Her father was a prosperous plantation owner who held slaves. It was they who largely raised her. It was her mother’s belief that that was the best way to rear her. Her parents didn’t permit her to eat with them until she was older.5
Nation’s mother suffered from mental problems and periodically thought that she was a lady-in-waiting to the queen of England. Over time she actually believed that she was the queen herself.6
When the Civil War began in 1861, the family moved to Texas. In 1867, over her parents’ strong objections, she married Dr. Charles Gloyd. She didn’t realize he was severely alcoholic. They subsequently had a daughter, Charlien, who suffered emotional difficulties. Their marriage was a very unhappy one. She soon left him because he was unable to support her financially. He died a few months later in 1869. Carry believed that her husband’s drinking had caused the child’s problem. Charlien was committed to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum in 1905.7
Marriage to Second Husband
Carry had a teaching certificate but was fired from her teaching job. This caused severe financial hardship. She then met Dr. David A. Nation, an attorney, minister and newspaper editor. He was 19 years her senior. In a marriage of convenience, she wed him in 1877.8 They bought a large cotton farm. But they knew virtually nothing about farming and it failed. He moved to Brazoria, Texas, to practice law. Carry moved to Columbia, Missouri, to manage a hotel.9
In 1889, the Nations moved to the same town, Medicine Lodge, Kansas. There she managed a hotel. He became a preacher for the Disciples of Christ church. She started a local branch or “union” of the WCTU. Carry was its president, served as the WCTU jail evangelist, taught Sunday School, and helped the poor.10
Strong-Willed and Domineering
Carry Nation was a strong-willed and domineering person. Her husband’s preaching did not please her. So she decided to guide and instruct his work. She told him what text to use. Sometimes she wrote his sermons. They would include attacks on smoking, drinking, and other “sins.”
While he preached, Carry sat in a front row. There she acted as his helper. She signaled him to raise or lower his voice, to speak slower or faster, and to make certain facial expressions. When she decided he had preached enough, she might step into the aisle. Then she might say “That will be about all for today, David!” Sometimes he would fail to quit speaking. Then she would walk to the pulpit, shut his Bible, hand him his hat and tell him to go home.11
In Medicine Lodge Carrie was becoming increasingly radical and vocal in her views. This began to cause concern among her fellow Disciples of Christ. In addition to her bizarre behavior in church,
She reached out to and ministered to the poor and the destitute. This was not always popular among her more class-conscious neighbors. She also claimed that she was receiving visions directly from God. And that the Holy Spirit baptized her. This was the last straw, and the Christian Church [Disciples of Christ] disfellowshipped her in 1892 for her views on the Holy Spirit.12
II. Carry Nation: The Activist
See AlsoWomen Leaders of Temperance and Prohibition.
The next year Kansas adopted prohibition, except for medicinal purposes. But people widely ignored the law. Nation began calling for its enforcement. Her methods escalated. They began with simple protests such as greeting bartenders remarks like “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.” They grew to standing outside saloons with another member of the WCTU praying loudly and singing hymns.13
Frustrated at her lack of success, Nation prayed for divine guidance. On June 5, 1900, she believed that it was being sent. As she explained, she heard the words
“GO TO KIOWA,” and my hands were lifted and thrown down and the words, “I’LL STAND BY YOU.” The words, “Go to Kiowa,” were spoken in a murmuring, musical tone, low and soft. But “I’ll stand by you,” was very clear, positive and emphatic. I was impressed with a great inspiration, the interpretation was very plain, it was this. “Take something in your hands, and throw at these places in Kiowa and smash them.”14
Nation promptly went to Kiowa, Kansas, gathered some rocks, and entered a saloon. She announced “Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate.”15 With that, she began to destroy alcohol bottles and other objects by throwing the rocks. Nation similarly destroyed two other saloons in town. She used not only rocks but brickbats, bottles, and a billiard ball.
Carry’s attack surprised local officials. But because the saloons were illegal, she did not face jail.16 After her attacks, a tornado hit the state. This, she believed, was a sign of divine approval of her actions.17 She compared herself to “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.”18
Nation went to Wichita
Lindsey Williams described one of her expeditions before she had begun using a hatchet.
Carry took the train to Wichita and spent the first day searching for an appropriate victim. She had not intended to make herself known just yet, but lost her composure in the Hotel Carey bar room.
A large, risque painting of Cleopatra At Her Bath caught her eye. She marched up to the bartender and shook her quivering forefinger at him. “Young man,” she thundered, “what are you doing in this hellhole?”
“I’m sorry, madam,” replied the bartender, “but we do not serve ladies.”
“Serve me?” she screamed. “Do you think I’d drink your hellish poison?” Pointing to Cleopatra, she demanded, “Take down that filthy thing, and close this murder mill.”
With this she snatched a bottle from the bar and smashed it to the floor. Carry marched out of the bar room amidst incredulous stares of the many imbibers.
Returning to her room she withdrew a heavy wooden club and an iron bar from her suitcase. She bound them into a formidable weapon.
In the morning she returned to the Hotel Carey, concealing her club and a supply of stones under the black cape that became her trademark. Without a word, she began her labors by demolishing Cleopatra At Her Bath. “Glory to God, peace on earth and goodwill to men.” She shouted that as she flailed against mirrors, bottles, chairs, tables and sundry accessories. Whiskey flowed in rivers across the floor.
The hotel detective found Mrs. Nation beating furiously on the long, curving bar with a brass spittoon. “Madam,” he said sternly, “I must arrest you for defacing property.”
“Defacing?” she screamed. “I am destroying!”19
Her husband suggested, perhaps in jest, that she should use a hatchet next time to cause more damage. She replied “That’s the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.”20
Nation went to other communities in her anti-alcohol campaign. It quickly received national attention. Her violent approach was getting results. In a matter of months it did more to enforce prohibition than churches and other groups were able to do. She even invaded the chambers of the governor of Kansas.21 Between 1900 and 1910, police arrested her 30 times for “hatchetations,” as she called them.22
Her attacks weren’t really simply because the saloons were illegal. It was really because they sold alcohol. She would go into a pharmacy that legally sold alcohol by prescription for medical purposes and destroy it. At times, she would attack the individuals who sold the alcohol.23
But a trip to New York City was ineffective. However, famous boxer John L. Sullivan reportedly ran and hid when Nation burst into his saloon in that city.24 She continued to attack saloons in major cities across the country. But she increasingly became a symbol of aggression rather than of temperance.
Carry and her husband agreed on few things. They argued about religion. She would help needy people by taking them in. This greatly inconvenienced him and her stepchildren. While she was traveling, her husband sued her for divorce. The grounds were cruelty and desertion. She had refused to let him go with her on her travels. He received the divorce after the trial in 1901.25 They had no children in their 24 years together. This may have been because she opposed “lustful marriage.”
The anti-Semitic Carry’s various views subjected her to ridicule. She strongly opposed fraternal orders, tobacco, foreign foods, fine clothing, corsets, and skirts of “improper length.” Nation called her opponents “rum-soaked, whiskey-swilled, saturn-faced rummies.”26 She grabbed cigarettes and cigars from smokers and ridiculed well-dressed people.27 It did not help that she applauded the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. She told a crowd that he secretly drank and that drinkers always got what they deserved.28
Cary Nation was about six feet tall and a strong and formidable woman. She physically attacked those who sold alcohol. But she also suffered assaults. Doing”hatchetations” was physically dangerous. The Kansas WCTU presented her with a gold medallion inscribed, “To the Bravest Woman in Kansas.”29
With her nation-wide notoriety, she
• Published a biweekly newsletter, The Smasher’s Mail.
• Appeared in vaudeville.
• Published an autobiography.30
• Sold photos of herself.
• Published a newspaper, The Hatchet.
• Charged to lecture. Her lecture circuit included
Canada and the United Kingdom.
• Sold miniature hatchets.
• Acted in a playin a play titled Hatchetation.31
Nation established “The Prohibition Federation,” for which her The Hatchet was the publication. She wrote into its preamble that “We exclude from our organization any person who will not vote for the total annihilation of intoxicating liquors for any purpose. We co-operate with the Prohibition Party. But we go a step further, making it a crime to manufacture or sell intoxicating liquors for any purpose.”32 That is, she also opposed alcohol for religious or medicinal purposes. Her venture failed. Nation seemed more skillful at destroying than at creating.
III. Carry Nation: Later Years
Near the end of her life, Nation moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. She wanted a quiet place to live. It also reminded her of Scotland, where she had traveled. Her large house served as a boarding house and a school that she called “National College.” It was not a college and did not offer college level instruction. She owned the house until her death, although she continued to travel.33 Her daughter “partially recovered and later married a likable man who owned several saloons in Texas, and often sent money to Carry when she was in need.”34
However, Nation was not a good manager of her finances. She died with little money and lay in an unmarked grave. It was next to her mother in Belton, Missouri. The WCTU later erected a large gravestone with her name and a quote. It was “Faithful to the Cause, She Hath Done What She Could.”35 In the 1950s, the WCTU bought the house Nation had owned in Medicine Lodge. It is now a National Historic Landmark.
People often identify Carry Nation with prohibition and women’s suffrage. However, feminist historian Fran Grace suggests another legacy. “Her western vigilantism, rowdy antics, unconventional marital status and seedy performance platform provide an important counterbalance to the ‘cleaned up’ history of women’s temperance activities.”36
Carry Nation died in 1911. That was nine years before her goal of National Prohibition came to be. It proved to be a failure that created very serious problems. Yet nearly one of five adults U.S. adults favors making drinking illegal. Even more support neo-prohibitionism. Perhaps her efforts were not in vain.
A radical feminist, Carry Nation was also a sexist. She insisted that “Men are nicotine-soaked, beer-besmirched, whiskey-greased, red-eyed devils.”37
Carry Nation was outspoken, acted on her beliefs, and evokes controversy even today.
Popular Books about Carry Nation
Asbury, H. Carry Nation. NY, Knopf, 1929.
Carver, F. From Sanctuary to Saloon. The Religious Pilgrimage of Carry A. Nation. Portland, OR: TREN, 2005.
Grace, F. Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life. Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 2001.
Harvey, B. Carry A. Nation. Saloon Smasher and Prohibitionist. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2002. (Elementary and junior high.)
Miller, B., et al. Women of the Frontier. 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-rousers. Chicago: Chigago Rev, 2013.
Taylor, R. Vessel of Wrath. The Life and Times of Carry Nation. NY: New Am Lib, 1968.
Carry Nation: Readings
Beals, C. Cyclone Carry: The Story of Carry Nation. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1962.
Caldwell, D. Carry Nation, A Missouri woman, won fame in Kansas. Missouri Hist Rev 1969, 63(4), 461-488.
Carry A. Nation. Christensen, L., et al. (eds.) Diction Missouri Bio. Columbia: U. Missouri Press, 1999, 428-431.
Day, R. Carry from Kansas became a Nation all unto herself. Smithsonian, 1989, 20, 147-164.
Ellis, D. Carry A. Nation, “Hatchet-Wielding Bar-Smasher.” Eureka Springs, AR: D. Ellis, 2006.
Fleming, G. and Porter, E. Why Mr. Nation Wants a Divorce. DVD video. U.S.: Edison Co., 1901, 2007.
Holbrook, S.H. Bonnet, book, and hatchet…Carry Nation. Am Herit, 9(1), 52-55 & 120-121.
Hubbard, G. Carry Nation and Her Denver Crusade of 1906. Cripple Creek, CO: Feitz, 1972.
Madison, A. Carry Nation. Nashville: Nelson, 1977.
Marlow, L. Carry Nation. Show Me Missouri Women. Selected Biographies. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson U. Press, 1989, 1, 236-237.
Moynihan, J.M. The Crusader Meets the Madam: Carry Nation and Madam Maloy in Butte, Montana. Spokane, WA: Chickadee, 2001.
Nation, Carry Amelia. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: Steves, 1905, 1908.
Nation, Carry. Am Nat Bio, 1999, v. 16.
Randolph, V. Carry Nation of Kansas: Who Fought the Liquor Traffic with a Hatchet. Girard, KS: Haldenman-Julius, 1944.
1. Nation, C.A. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: Steves, 1905, 1908.
2. Grace, F. Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life. Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 2001, 5-6.
3. Braniff, E. Carry Nation recalled as a crusader who could laugh at own discomfiture. Kansas City Times. March 29, 1948.
4. State Hist Soc Missouri. Famous Missourians. Carry A. Nation (1846-1911) http://shs.umsystem.edu/famousmissourians/leaders/nation/nation.shtml
5. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911) aka: Carry Nation. Encyc Arkansas Hist & Cult. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2514
6. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation, ibid.
7. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation, ibid.
8. Maxey, A. A Bulldog for Jesus. http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx335.htm
9. Nation, C.A., ibid.
10. Cary A.Nation. Kansas Heritage. http://www.kansasheritage.org/medicine/carry.html
11. Carry Nation Organization. http://www.carrynation.org/history/history.htm
12. Maxey, ibid.
13. State Hist Soc Missouri, ibid.
14. Nation, ibid.
15. Carrie Nation. New World Encyc. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Carrie_Nation.
16. Kansas State Library. Carry A. Nation. http://www.skyways.org/history/cnation.html
17. Nation, C.A., ibid.
18. Nation, C.A., ibid.
19. Williams, L. Carry Nation left hatchet home on Punta Gorda visit. Sun Coast Media Group, Jan 15, 1995.
20. Nation, C.A., ibid.
21. Carry (Amelia) Nation. Brittanica CD. http://www.uv.es/EBRIT/micro/micro_416_61.html
22. Carry Nation. Infoplease. http://www.infoplease.com/biography/var/carrynation.html.
23. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911), ibid.
24. Carrie Nation. American Experience, ibid.
25. Carry Nation Organization, ibid.
26. Carrie Nation. American Experience, ibid.
27. Carry Nation Organization, ibib.
28. Maxey, ibid.
29. State Hist Soc Missouri, ibid.
30. Nation, C.A., ibid.
31. Carrie Nation. American Experience. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pande4.html
32. Nation, C.A., ibid.
33. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911), ibid.
34. Carry Nation Organization. http://www.carrynation.org/history/history.htm
35. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911), ibid.
36. Grace, ibid.
37. Carry Nation quotes. Thinkexist.com http://thinkexist.com/quotation/men_are_nicotine-soaked-beer-besmirched-whiskey/201036.html)