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Carry Nation and Her Hatchet

When she walked into a bar, people noticed. Carry Nation was six feet tall and weighed around 175 pounds. Her physical stature, alone, warned people "not to mess with her."

Then there was that hatchet. When Carry visited a bar, she wasn't there to order a drink. She was there to destroy the liquor supplies and generally vandalize the place.

That she could be arrested for her deeds mattered less to Carry than sending a strong message that men, drinking large quantities of alcohol, were harming their families. She was, in fact, arrested around thirty times (and actually spent some time in jail).

Who was Carry Nation? And why do we often see two different spellings of her name?

When she entered the world, in 1846, she was called Carrie Amelia Moore. Born in Garrard County, Kentucky, she decided to change the spelling of her name in 1903.

What caused Carry to become a staunch temperance supporter? She had compelling personal reasons.

Her first husband, Charles Gloyd—whom she married in 1867—was a physician who'd served in America's Civil War. He was a physician who was addicted to alcohol.

Although Gloyd struggled to support his wife—who was expecting their child—Carrie decided she’d had enough. Not long after she moved out, returning to her parents' home, her husband died.

Carrie Moore Gloyd became Carrie Nation in 1877 (when she married David Nation who was nineteen years older than his new wife). In 1889, the couple moved to Kansas where David worked as a pastor (although he was also a lawyer and a journalist).

Carrie joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) whose members wanted Kansas authorities to enforce the state’s liquor laws. The women sang hymns, outside of the bars, causing some of the bars to close.

Then Carrie took a more radical approach. She decided to exchange hymns for hatchets.

On the 7th of June, in 1900, Carrie visited Dobson’s Saloon in Kiowa, Kansas. She reportedly told the male patrons:

I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate.

With that pronouncement, she started smashing liquor bottles with a brickbat. Soon her preferred weapon was a hatchet or a hammer. Both worked pretty well as weapons of mass destruction!

Not all women agreed with Carrie Nation’s tactics. Others preferred to lobby governmental representatives, hold rallies and publish anti-alcohol literature (such as posters). David Nation also disagreed with his wife’s tactics. He divorced her, on grounds of desertion, in 1901.

With the onset of World War One, temperance advocates assured Americans that alcohol consumption was unpatriotic. It was during WWI when Congress passed the 18th Amendment which prohibited the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages (ultimately ushering in thirteen years of Prohibition).

Carry Nation would have been proud of those developments, had she lived long-enough to witness them. After all, she'd changed the spelling of her name (Carrie Amelia Nation) to reflect her goal:

Carry A Nation for Prohibition

Instead ... exhausted, after working hard for so many years ... Carry collapsed in January of 1911, while giving a lecture in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (where she had moved). She died on June 2, that year, at the Evergreen Place Hospital and Sanitarium in Leavenworth, Kansas. She was 64 years old.

Buried in the Moore family plot—in Belton, Missouri—Carry Nation’s remains lie next to those of her mother. She is remembered today as someone who stood-up for her beliefs without regard to personal consequences (including serving time in jail).

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Oct 20, 2017


Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Library of Congress. The political cartoon was created by an artist working for "The Saint Paul Globe," which published the work, circa 1901.

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