Carry Nation

Carry Nation was the member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union best known for attacking saloons and other drinking establishments with a hatchet.

The spelling of Nation's first name is the source of much confusion and both Carrie and Carry are considered correct. Official records indicate it was Carrie, which Nation and others used most of her life. However, Carry was used by her father in the family Bible. Upon beginning her campaign against alcohol, she adopted the name Carry A. Nation mainly for its value as a slogan and had it registered as a trademark in the state of Kansas. She also believed that it was providential and that she would "Carry A. Nation" to prohibition.1

Nation was controversial during her life and she remains so in her death. She's been described as a religious fanatic, a crank, and exhibitionist, a misfortune, and much more. Typically, the descriptions include some suggestion of mental problems: insane, "psychotic from and early age," demented, 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 may have been mean-spirited. However, friends described her as gentle, loving and caring. Supporting this view is the fact that she appeared to be generous to a fault. Throughout her life she extended help and hospitality to those in need even when she was in no financial position to do so and even when it created serious marital conflict. She was described as a person who could "laugh at her own discomfiture"3 and, on one occasion, was reported to have 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, to George and Mary Moore. Her father was a prosperous plantation owner who held slaves and it was they who largely raised her because of her mother's belief that that was the best way to rear her. She wasn't permitted to eat with her parents 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 and 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, whom she didn't realize was a severe 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, and he died a few months later in 1869. Carry believed that her husband's alcohol consumption had caused the child's problem. Charlien was committed to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum in 1905.7

Carry received a teaching certificate but was fired from her teaching job and experienced severe financial hardship. She then met Dr. David A. Nation, an attorney, minister and newspaper editor 19 years her senior. In a marriage of convenience, she wed him in 1877.8 They bought a large cotton farm, although they knew virtually nothing about farming, and the enterprise failed. He moved to Brazoria, Texas, to practice law and 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 and he became a preacher for the Disciples of Christ church. She started a local branch or "union" of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, was its president, served as the WCTU jail evangelist, taught Sunday School, and attended to the poor and needy.10

Carry was a strong-willed and domineering person who was not pleased with her husband's preaching.

She therefore decided to guide and instruct his work. Not only did she tell him what text to use, but she sometimes wrote his sermons, including in them attacks on tobacco and liquor and other iniquities. While he preached, she sat in a front row and acted as helper, instructing him to raise or lower his voice, to speak slower or faster, and to make proper facial motions. When she decided he had exhausted his subject, she might step into the aisle and declare: "That will be about all for today, David!" Sometimes he would fail to quit speaking whereupon 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 and 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, which was not always popular among her more class-conscious neighbors. She also claimed that she was receiving visions directly from God and that she had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. This was the last straw, and the Christian Church [Disciples of Christ] disfellowshipped her in 1892 for her views on the Holy Spirit.12

The next year Kansas adopted a constitutional amendment prohibiting the production or sale of alcoholic beverage except for medicinal purposes. However, the law was widely ignored and Nation began agitating for its enforcement. Her methods escalated from simple protests such as greeting bartenders with pointed remarks like "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls," 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 was convinced that she had received it. 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. Announcing "Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard's fate,"15 she began to destroy alcohol bottles and other objects by throwing the rocks. She similarly destroyed two other saloons in town, using not only rocks but brickbats, bottles, and a billiard ball as ammunition. Carry's attack surprised local officials, but because of the fact that the operation of saloons was illegal she was not jailed as she would be later in other communities.16 After her attacks, a tornado hit the state, which 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

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, risqué 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 and 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 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

After the attack, her husband suggested, perhaps in jest, that she should use a hatchet next time to cause more damage, to which 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, which quickly received national attention. Her violent approach was achieving results and in a matter of months did more to enforce prohibition than churches and other groups were able to accomplish. She even invaded the chambers of the Governor of Kansas.21 Between 1900 and 1910, she was arrested 30 times for "hatchetations," as she called them.22

Her attacks weren't really simply because the saloons were in violation of the law, it was simply 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

However, a trip to New York City was ineffective, although famous boxer John L. Sullivan was reported to have run and hid when Nation burst into his saloon in that city.24 She continued to attack saloons in major cities across the country, but increasingly became a symbol of aggression rather than of temperance.

Carry and her husband agreed on few things. They argued about religion and she would help needy people by taking them in, even when it greatly inconvenienced him and her stepchildren. She was in Columbus, Ohio, when she learned that her husband was suing her for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion. She had refused to let him go with her on her travels. After the trial in 1901, he was granted the divorce.25 They had no children in their 24 years together, perhaps because she had come to oppose "lustful marriage."

The anti-Semitic Carry's strong opposition to fraternal orders, tobacco, foreign foods, fine clothing, corsets, and skirts of "improper length" subjected her to ridicule. Undeterred, she called her opponents "rum-soaked, whiskey-swilled, saturn-faced rummies,"26 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 because she believed that he secretly drank alcohol and that drinkers always got what they deserved.28

Cary nation was about six feet tall and a strong and formidable woman. Not only did she attack those who sold alcohol, but was also assaulted herself in protection of property, and sometimes in self-defense. Performing "hatchetations" was a physically dangerous activity. 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), a newspaper (The Hatchet), an autobiography30 and later in life exploited her name by appearing in vaudeville, selling photographs of herself, charging to lecture, selling miniature hatchets, and acting in a play titled Hatchetation.31 Her lecture circuit included both Canada and the United Kingdom.

Nation established "The Prohibition Federation," for which her The Hatchet was the official 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 go a step further, making it a crime to manufacture or sell intoxicating liquors for any purpose."32 That is, she opposed the use of alcohol for religious or medicinal purposes. It failed -- Nation was apparently more skillful at destroying than at creating.

Near the end of her life, Nation moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. She wanted a quiet place to live, and said that Arkansas reminded her of Scotland, where she had recently traveled. Her large house served as a boarding house and a school that she called "National College" in spite of the fact that 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 was buried in an unmarked grave next to her mother in Belton, Missouri. The WCTU later erected a large gravestone with her name and the quote: "Faithful to the Cause, She Hath Done What She Could."35 The house Nation had owned in Medicine Lodge was bought by the WCTU in the 1950s and is now a National Historic Landmark.

Carry Nation's legacy is often identified as her promotion of 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, nine years before her goal of National Prohibition was implemented. And although Prohibition proved to be a failure that created very serious problems, there is a strong neo-prohibition that exists today. Perhaps her efforts were not in vain.

A radical feminist, Carry Nation also appears to have been a sexist and insisted that "Men are nicotine-soaked, beer-besmirched, whiskey-greased, red-eyed devils."37 She was outspoken, acted on her beliefs, and continues to be controversial today.

 

Readings on Carry Nation:

  • Asbury, Herbert. Carry Nation. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1929.
  • Asbury, Herbert. The conquest of Kansas: the story of Carry Nation. Outlook and Independent, August 21, 1929, 152(17).
  • Asbury, Herbert. Marching as to war: the story of Carry Nation. Outlook and Independent, August 14, 1929, 152(16).
  • Beals, Carleton. Cyclone Carry: The Story of Carry Nation. Philadelphia: Chilton Company, 1962.
  • Braniff, E. A. Carry Nation recalled as a crusader who could laugh at own discomfiture. Kansas City Times. March 29, 1948.
  • Caldwell, Dorothy. Carry Nation, A Missouri woman, won fame in Kansas. Missouri Historical Review, 1969, 63(4), 461-488.
  • Christensen, Lawrence O., et al. (eds.) Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999, 428-431.
  • Day, Robert. Carry from Kansas became a Nation all unto herself. Smithsonian, 1989, 20, 147-164.
  • Ellis, Dan. Carry A. Nation, "Hatchet-Wielding Bar-Smasher." Eureka Springs, AR: D. Ellis, 2006.
  • Fleming, George S. and Porter, Edwin S. Why Mr. Nation Wants a Divorce. DVD video. U.S.: Edison Manufacturing Co.. Distributed by Image Entertainment, 1901, 2007.
  • Grace, Fran. Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Harvey, Bonnie C. Carry A. Nation: Saloon Smasher and Prohibitionist. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2002. (Elementary and junior high level)
  • Hilt, Michael L. A Descriptive Analysis of the Smasher's Mail, Carry Nation's Newspaper. Thesis. University of Kansas, 1986.
  • Holbrook, Stewart H. Bonnet, book, and hatchet...Carry Nation. American Heritage, 9(1), 52-55 & 120-121.
  • Guitar, Sarah. Monuments and memorials in Missouri. Missouri Historical Review, 1925, 19(4), 566.
  • Hubbard, George U. Carry nation and Her Denver Crusade of 1906. Cripple Creek, CO: Leland Feitz, 1972.
  • Lewis, Bill. Carry Nation: the trouble was all in her head. Arkansas Gazette. August 25, 1978, pp. 1B, 6B.
  • Madison, Arnold. Carry Nation. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1977.
  • Marlow, Lydia. Carry Nation. Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University 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: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1905, 1908.
  • Nation, Carry. American national Biography, 1999, v. 16.
  • Randolph, Vance. Carry Nation of Kansas: Who Fought the Liquor Traffic with a Hatchet. Girard, KS: Haldenman-Julius Publications, 1944.
  • Review: Grace reveals hatchet-weilding temperance leader. Library Journal, 2001, 126(11), 81.
  • Taylor, Robert Lewis. Vessel of Wrath: The Life and Times of Carry Nation. New York: New American Library, 1966.
  • Temperance societies flourished in Missouri a century ago. Missouri Historical Review, 1952, 46(2),147-149.
  • Waal, Carla, and Barbara Oliver Korner, (eds.) Hardship and Hope: Missouri Women Writing about Their Lives, 1820-1920. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997, 184-192.

References:

  • 1. Nation, Carry Amelia. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1905, 1908.
  • 2. Grace, Fran. Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001, 5-6.
  • 3. Braniff, E. A. Carry Nation recalled as a crusader who could laugh at own discomfiture. Kansas City Times. March 29, 1948.
  • 4. State Historical Society of 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. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2514
  • 6. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911) aka: Carry Nation. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2514
  • 7. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911) aka: Carry Nation. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2514
  • 8. Maxey, Al. A Bulldog for Jesus. http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx335.htm
  • 9. Nation, Carry Amelia. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1905, 1908.
  • 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, Al. A Bulldog for Jesus. http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx335.htm
  • 13. State Historical Society of Missouri http://shs.umsystem.edu/famousmissourians/leaders/nation/nation.shtml
  • 14. Nation, Carry Amelia. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1905, 1908. 
  • 15. Carrie Nation. New World Encyclopedia. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Carrie_Nation.
  • 16. Kansas State Library. Carry A. Nation. http://www.skyways.org/history/cnation.html
  • 17. Nation, Carry Amelia. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1905, 1908. 
  • 18. Nation, Carry Amelia. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1905, 1908.
  • 19. Williams, Lindsey. Carry Nation left hatchet home on Punta Gorda visit. Sun Coast Media Group, January 15, 1995.
  • 20. Nation, Carry Amelia. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. W Topeka: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1905, 1908. 
  • 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) aka: Carry Nation. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2514
  • 24. Carrie Nation. American Experience. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pande4.html
  • 25. Carry Nation Organization. http://www.carrynation.org/history/history.htm
  • 26. Carrie Nation. American Experience. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pande4.html
  • 27. Carry Nation Organization. http://www.carrynation.org/history/history.htm
  • 28. Maxey, Al. A Bulldog for Jesus. http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx335.htm
  • 29. State Historical Society of Missouri. Famous Missourians. Carry A. Nation (1846-1911). State Historical Society of Missouri. http://shs.umsystem.edu/famousmissourians/leaders/nation/nation.shtml)
  • 30. Nation, Carry A. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka, KS: F.M. Steves & Sons, 1904.
  • 31. Carrie Nation. American Experience. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/peopleevents/pande4.html
  • 32. Nation, Carry A. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka, KS: F.M. Steves & Sons, 1904.
  • 33. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911) aka: Carry Nation. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2514
  • 34. Carry Nation Organization. http://www.carrynation.org/history/history.htm
  • 35. Carrie Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911) aka: Carry Nation. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2514
  • 36. Grace, Fran. Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • 37. Carry Nation quotes. Thinkexist.com http://thinkexist.com/quotation/men_are_nicotine-soaked-beer-besmirched-whiskey/201036.html)

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