Today is the birthday of Carrie Nation (November 25, 1846–June 9, 1911). Many biographies of her today refer to her as a “famous leader and activist,” a “temperance crusader” or “temperance advocate.” But she was also a terrorist who tried to impose her will by smashing up bars. One simple definition of terrorism is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” That’s exactly what she was doing, and why she was celebrated by temperance groups, especially the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which she was a member of and went so far as to start a local branch. None of these groups did much to stop her destroying private property and terrorizing people she disagreed with, because even though they wouldn’t come out publicly in favor of such tactics, in private they were just fine with the results. That she’s still revered in some circles today strikes me as quite odd. She was a criminal, and yet has her own page on The State Historical Society of Missouri’s “Historic Missourians,” (which is doubly odd since she was born in Kentucky and only moved to Missouri when she was a young girl). Many biographies refer to her “passionate activism against alcohol” or her “passion for fighting liquor” as positive attributes, which certainly seems like revisionist history and apologists for criminal behavior to me. Certainly, the bar owners and patrons whom she encountered have a considerably different opinion of her “passion.” According to Wikipedia, “She described herself as ‘a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like,’ and claimed a divine ordination to promote temperance by destroying bars.”
Nation was born in Garrard County, Kentucky, to George and Mary (née Campbell) Moore. Her father was a successful farmer, stock trader, and slaveholder of Irish descent. During much of her early life, her health was poor and her family experienced financial setbacks. The family moved several times in Kentucky and finally settled in Belton, Missouri in 1854. She had poor education and informal learning.
In addition to their financial difficulties, many of her family members suffered from mental illness, her mother at times having delusions. There is speculation that the family did not stay in one place long because of rumors about Nation’s mother’s mental state. Some writers have speculated that Nation’s mother, Mary, believed she was Queen Victoria because of her love of finery and social airs. Mary lived in an insane asylum in Nevada, Missouri, from August 1890 until her death on September 28, 1893. Mary was put in the asylum through legal action by her son, Charles, although there is suspicion that Charles instigated the lawsuit because he owed Mary money.
The family moved to Texas as Missouri became involved in the Civil War in 1862. George did not fare well in Texas, and he moved his family back to Missouri. The family returned to High Grove Farm in Cass County. When the Union Army ordered them to evacuate their farm, they moved to Kansas City. Carrie nursed wounded soldiers after a raid on Independence, Missouri. The family again returned to their farm when the Civil War ended.
In 1865 Carrie met Charles Gloyd, a young physician who had fought for the Union, who was a severe alcoholic. Gloyd taught school near the Moores’ farm while deciding where to establish his medical practice. He eventually settled on Holden, Missouri, and asked Nation to marry him. Nation’s parents objected to the union because they believed he was addicted to alcohol, but the marriage proceeded. They were married on November 21, 1867, and separated shortly before the birth of their daughter, Charlien, on September 27, 1868. Gloyd died in 1869 of alcoholism.
Influenced by the death of her husband, Nation developed a passionate activism against alcohol. With the proceeds from selling her inherited land (as well as that of her husband’s estate), she built a small house in Holden. She moved there with her mother-in-law and Charlien, and attended the Normal Institute in Warrensburg, Missouri, earning her teaching certificate in July 1872. She taught at a school in Holden for four years. She obtained a history degree and studied the influence of Greek philosophers on American politics.
In 1874, Carrie married David A. Nation, an attorney, minister, newspaper journalist, and father, 19 years her senior.
The family purchased a 1,700 acre (690 ha) cotton plantation on the San Bernard River in Brazoria County, Texas. As neither knew much about farming, the venture was ultimately unsuccessful. David Nation moved to Brazoria to practice law. In about 1880, Carrie moved to Columbia to operate the hotel owned by A. R. and Jesse W. Park. Her name is on the Columbia Methodist Church roll. She lived at the hotel with her daughter, Charlien Gloyd, “Mother Gloyd” (Carrie’s first mother-in-law), and David’s daughter, Lola. Her husband also operated a saddle shop just southwest of this site. The family soon moved to Richmond, Texas to operate a hotel.
David Nation became involved in the Jaybird–Woodpecker War. As a result, he was forced to move back north to Medicine Lodge, Kansas in 1889, where he found work preaching at a Christian church and Carrie ran a successful hotel.
She began her temperance work in Medicine Lodge by starting a local branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and campaigning for the enforcement of Kansas’ ban on the sale of liquor. Her methods escalated from simple protests to serenading saloon patrons with hymns accompanied by a hand organ, to greeting bartenders with pointed remarks such as, “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.” She also helped her mother and her daughter who had mental health problems.
Dissatisfied with the results of her efforts, Nation began to pray to God for direction. On June 5, 1900, she felt she received her answer in the form of a heavenly vision. As she described it:
The next morning I was awakened by a voice which seemed to me speaking in my heart, these 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.”
Responding to the revelation, Nation gathered several rocks – “smashers”, she called them – and proceeded to Dobson’s Saloon on June 7. Announcing “Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate”, she began to destroy the saloon’s stock with her cache of rocks. After she similarly destroyed two other saloons in Kiowa, a tornado hit eastern Kansas, which she took as divine approval of her actions.
Nation continued her destructive ways in Kansas, her fame spreading through her growing arrest record. After she led a raid in Wichita, Kansas, her husband joked that she should use a hatchet next time for maximum damage. Nation replied, “That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.” The couple divorced in 1901; they had no children. Between 1902-06 she lived in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Alone or accompanied by hymn-singing women, she would march into a bar and sing and pray while smashing bar fixtures and stock with a hatchet. Her actions often did not include other people, just herself. Between 1900 and 1910, she was arrested some 30 times for “hatchetations”, as she came to call them. Nation paid her jail fines from lecture-tour fees and sales of souvenir hatchets. The souvenirs were provided by a Topeka, Kansas pharmacist. Engraved on the handle of the hatchet, the pin reads, “Death to Rum”.
In April 1901, Nation went to Kansas City, Missouri, a city known for its wide opposition to the temperance movement, and smashed liquor in various bars on 12th Street in downtown Kansas City. She was arrested, hauled into court and fined $500 ($13,400 in 2011 dollars), although the judge suspended the fine so long as Nation never returned to Kansas City. She would be arrested over 32 times—one report is that she was placed in the Washington DC poorhouse for three days for refusing to pay a $35 fine.
Nation also conducted women’s rights marches in Topeka, Kansas. She led hundreds of women that were part of the Home Defender’s Army to march in opposition to saloons.
In Amarillo, Texas, Nation received a strong response, as she was sponsored by the noted surveyor W.D. Twichell, an active Methodist layman.
Nation’s anti-alcohol activities became widely known, with the slogan “All Nations Welcome But Carrie” becoming a bar-room staple. She published The Smasher’s Mail, a biweekly newsletter, and The Hatchet, a newspaper. Later in life she exploited her name by appearing in vaudeville in the United States and music halls in Great Britain. In October 1909, various press outlets reported that Nation claimed to have invented an aeroplane.
Nation, a proud woman more given to sermonizing than entertaining, found these venues uninspiring for her proselytizing. One of the number of pre-World War I acts that “failed to click” with foreign audiences, Nation was struck by an egg thrown by an audience member during one 1909 music hall lecture at the Canterbury Theatre of Varieties. Indignantly, “The Anti-Souse Queen” ripped up her contract and returned to the United States. Seeking profits elsewhere, she sold photographs of herself, collected lecture fees, and marketed miniature souvenir hatchets.
Suspicious that President William McKinley was a secret drinker, Nation applauded his 1901 assassination because drinkers “got what they deserved.”
Near the end of her life, Nation moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas where she founded the home known as “Hatchet Hall”. In poor health, she collapsed during a speech in a Eureka Springs park. She was taken to a hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas, the Evergreen Place Hospital and Sanitarium located on 25 acres at Limit Street and South Maple Avenue just outside the city limits of Leavenworth.
Evergreen Place Hospital was founded and operated by Dr. Charles Goddard, a professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and a distinguished authority on nervous and mental troubles, liquor and drug habits.
Nation died there on June 9, 1911. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Belton City Cemetery in Belton, Missouri. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union later erected a stone inscribed “Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could” and the name “Carry A. Nation.”
Carry Nation, in full Carry A. Nation, née Carrie Amelia Moore, (born November 25, 1846, Garrard county, Kentucky, U.S.—died June 9, 1911, Leavenworth, Kansas), American temperance advocate famous for using a hatchet to demolish barrooms.
Carry Moore as a child experienced poverty, her mother’s mental instability, and frequent bouts of ill health. Although she held a teaching certificate from a state normal school, her education was intermittent. In 1867 she married a young physician, Charles Gloyd, whom she left after a few months because of his alcoholism. In 1877 she married David Nation, a lawyer, journalist, and minister, who divorced her in 1901 on the grounds of desertion.
Carry Nation entered the temperance movement in 1890, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision in favour of the importation and sale of liquor in “original packages” from other states weakened the prohibition laws of Kansas, where she was living. In her view, the illegality of the saloons flourishing in that state meant that anyone could destroy them with impunity. Alone or accompanied by hymn-singing women, Nation, who was typically dressed in stark black-and-white clothing, would march into a saloon and proceed to sing, pray, hurl biblical-sounding vituperations, and smash the bar fixtures and stock with a hatchet. At one point, her fervour led her to invade the governor’s chambers at Topeka. Jailed many times, she paid her fines from lecture tour fees and sales of souvenir hatchets, at times earning as much as $300 per week. She herself survived numerous physical assaults.
Nation published a few short-lived newsletters—called variously The Smasher’s Mail, The Hatchet, and the Home Defender—and her autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation, in 1904 (rev. ed., 2006). Her “hatchetation” period was brief but brought her national notoriety. She was for a time much in demand as a temperance lecturer; she also railed against fraternal orders, tobacco, foreign foods, corsets, skirts of improper length, and mildly pornographic art of the sort found in some barrooms of the time. She was an advocate of woman suffrage. Later she appeared in vaudeville, at Coney Island, New York, and briefly in 1903 in Hatchetation, an adaptation of T.S. Arthur’s Ten Nights in a Bar-Room: And What I Saw There (1854). Despite her campaign, the enactment in 1919 of national prohibition was largely the result of the efforts of more conventional reformers, who had been reluctant to support her.
If you’re curious if her first name is “Carry” or “Carrie,” it’s actually both. “The spelling of her first name varies; both ‘Carrie’ and ‘Carry’ are considered correct. Official records say ‘Carrie,’ which Nation used for most of her life; the name ‘Carry’ was used by her father in the family Bible. Upon beginning her campaign against liquor in the early 20th century, she adopted the name ‘Carry A. Nation,’ saying it meant ‘Carry A Nation for Prohibition.’ After gaining notoriety, Carrie officially registered ‘Carry’ as a trademark.”