Carry A Nation

I’d assumed that Carry Nation was a short woman, like the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland.

I was wrong.

She was about 6-feet tall. Let that sink in.


Google shows me that male soldiers (21 year olds) of the time averaged about 5’8″ and women of a similar age were a little over 5’3″.

She wasn’t the puff of rage I’d pictured.

Carrie also understood optics. She shrouded herself in a uniform of all black, including gloves, to add to her severity and protect from flying glass. She occasionally wore a dark veil over her face while attacking saloons.


She described herself as “a bull-dog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like”

That’s either a mighty big bulldog or I’ve underestimated Jesus’s height as well.

Raw fear and self-preservation must have been part of why owners and patrons fled from saloons when she started smashing. There are tales of her ripping doors off hinges and I’m inclined to believe. It makes a whole lot more sense now that I have a sense of scale.

Even at six feet tall, privilege still plays a huge part of how she could do the things she did.

Carrie’s back story:

Carrie Amelia Moore (sources vary on the spelling, more later) was born in 1846.

Her daddy was a stockholder who owned a large plantation (yup, slaveholder). Finances fluctuated for the family  but they were of a solid social strata. Carrie married a doctor she’d met while volunteering as a nurse in the civil war… but he was a drunk.

Carry  inherited land and wealth enough from her father to separate from her first husband (Charles Gloyd) in 1868 and take her one daughter with her. Her first husband died of the drink shortly afterwards.

She used the land and money to build a home for herself, her daughter, and her mother-in law. She put herself through school and got a teaching certificate. She taught and continued her own education, eventually getting a history degree. This is the late 1800’s and she seems to have been functioning as the householder for a few years. She had the skills but she also undeniably had the cash to be independent of her first husband and >get< an education.

She got married again in 1874, this time to a widower named David Nation. Thus she became Carrie/Carry A Nation. Later, when God started chatting her up, this became  one of the many signs she saw screaming her destiny. Carry A Nation. DOOO IT! This is your DESTINY! CARRY a Nation by FUCKING SHIT UP!
 If she was Carrie before it was CARRY now.

Her husband got involved in preaching and Carrie ran her own successful hotel in Kansas where her daughter, David’s children, and Mama Gloyd also lived. She had means. Cashin’ Carry! (sorry)


In the 1890’s she got hooked up with the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union, France Willard’s bunch). Carry became more focused on the sins of alcohol and probably less agreeable to be around..

She liked hailing local saloon owners on her morning perambulations with greetings like ” Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.” She called alcohol “hellish poison” and saloons “murder mills.” In town walks she  carried her own hand organ to accompany herself while aggressively singing hymns at drinkers. One article I read said it was an accordion she played as she hymned.

Either one, EITHER ONE, is not a welcoming sight. With the barrel organ you have the promise of a set tune. The accordion/concertina promises nothing and delivers only jaunty sadness.

Carrie was also tending to the mental health  of her own mother and her daughter. Her mother, who may have believed that she was Queen Victoria, was institutionalized in an insane asylum. Women in Carry’s family were not the only ones plagued with mental illness, it affected some of her uncles (cousins?) as well.

God started talking to Carrie.

It wasn’t always in a quiet  white-girl-yoga “the universe is trying to tell me something” mindful way.  Carrie used to have loud, animated discussions with God in public and private.

And Carrie interpreted God’s word to say that the WCTU was going too slow and that she had HIS command to GO TO KIOWA (in Kansas). The WTCU had tried writing letters and pressuring the authorities to close the saloons. Prohibition had yet to pass but Kansas was legally a dry state by then. She was just, ya know, getting people to pay attention to the law. For God!

“Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate”

June 5th, 1900,  she packed rocks and bricks in paper and took her “smashers” to the nearest three saloons in Kiowa….and smashed all the alcohol and everything that could contain alcohol.

And that’s what we love about Carry, isn’t it, the smashing? The destructive power of id tied to indignation and let loose into unsuspecting territory? Imagining the heft of a rock in our hands one moment, the soreness in our arms just before we release, and then the sound of shattering glass, the scent of alcohol everywhere? To crush the substance that had destroyed your first husband? Maybe you didn’t want him anymore by them but still…FUCK THIS AND THAT AND THOSE MIRRORS.

Shortly after her Koiwa attentions, a tornado hit eastern Kansas. To Carry, that was just God showing his displeasure at Kansas lawlessness…and winkin’ at her.

Social check:
Had Carrie been a woman of a lower class or had been dependent on her husband for an income, God telling her to go SMASH up shit, probably would have quickly involved her own asylum days. A woman of a different race? Impossible. She’d have been stopped.

More Smashing
She led a similar raid on a saloon in Wichita and did thousands dollars of damage.She was also fond of destroying saucy painting meant to “titillate” patrons. Carry was popped into jail and as quickly popped back out. This was when she started gaining nationwide press coverage.

Her husband jokingly suggested she’d do more damage with an axe.  She told him “That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.”*  They divorced in 1901 and she never married again.

The divorces! I just didn’t think that was something you did back that. I thought you had to wait for someone to die. I guess when you’re a woman of means you and your husband get to do that. I also imagine that Carry had ways** of convincing a husband that they might want to leave and let her be.

In truth, her second  husband filed on the grounds of “cruelty and desertion” because in her increasing travels she refused to allow him to travel with her.


Wikidump of her high times:

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.

She didn’t just stick to saloons. Unlike Prohibition, she never even allowed alcohol for “medicinal” purposes,  Carry would occasionally smash pharmacies.

Back to Wiki:
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

One of the people who paid Carry’s bail once was Nick Chilesnick-chiles

Nick Chiles’s Plaindealer was said to be the most successful African-American newspaper in Kansas and one of the strongest in the nation. It became the longest running black newspaper in the United States.

Nick Chiles became Carry Nation’s publishing partner at the start of Nation’s newsletter/paper  The Smasher’s Mail ( which ran for thirteen issues) in 1901. The newspaper featured opinions and letters (supporting and hating) and “poetry devoted to the cause”

And those letters of opposition? They were doozies!
“If you are so game, why don’t you come to my saloon in Dallas, you know better, I will break a 45 Colt over your head and let my dogs gnash your skull bones. I will give you $5,000 a month to advertise our fine Dallas Beer. Again, Before I close, I dare you to come to Dallas”

(From Carry Nation: Retelling the Life by Fran Grace)

I’m not sure how a dog-gnashed skull could advertise a beer, or why you’d have to pay it monthly or even once.

Carry thanked Nick Chiles for his help with The Smasher’s Mail by accusing him of changing her text and withholding cash from advertisers. She also may not have taken too well to letter writers who encouraged her to more actively work with Nick Chiles in her public protests and image. She wasn’t about equality for Black Men and White Women, just White Women and White Men. She’d publish sob stories from black Americans (not what she’d call them) and take their cash but that was where it ended.

She marketed herself widely. She sold papers, advertizing in those papers, photos of herself with a bibles and a hatchet, pins, hatchets, her autobiography and took money for speaking/sermonizing.  If you note the leather satchel she carries in many photos, that’s got her merch.

The money was often used to get her out of jails but some of the proceeds went to building a house in Kansas city, Kansas to shelter “Wives and children of drunkards”…forward thinking but still in a time where alcohol in isolation was blamed for domestic abuse, not larger societal issues.

The momentum of support for the tactics she  used in the name of temperance did not last…but that just meant Carry continued  when she was alone in her hachetnation.

Carry’s business acumen also didn’t extent to making sure she brought in enough money to do her charitable work and take care of herself well. She had enough to set up a small facility in Kansas, a home known as Hatchet Hall, where she could be taken care of towards the end of her life…and that was the end of her money.

But she didn’t slow down. She continued to lecture and hachet when she could, returning to Hatchet Hall to rest up.
She wasn’t doing it for love. Hate didn’t break her. She was well aware of the violent thoughts she engendered in others. She was the go-to image of cartoonists wanting to mock women in the temperance movement. She read and printed her hate mail, she viewed the vaudeville circuit as a place to preach even though she was being laughed at, people threw eggs and food at her when she was onstage, college students lured her to campuses under the pretext of speaking only to mock her. She KNEW what people thought of her .

Maybe she just didn’t think much of people…much less their opinions. She was trying to “save” people from their own actions, after all. Nonetheless, the opposition didn’t stop her. No doubt she understood on some level that she’d usually be safe. She might have called it God, we know it was privilege.

It didn’t always protect her. Men might not have felt comfortable hitting an older woman of her status  but white women involved in saloons had fewer reservations. In 1910 a woman saloon owner in Montana beat Carry A Nation severely. She may have never fully recovered.

In January of 1911, while giving a speech, Carry Nation collapsed on stage. She was hospitalized and remained so untill she died on June 2nd, 1911. She was never to see Prohibition enacted or to see it fail so resolutely

Her savings gone, she was buried in an unmarked plot next to her mother. Although the WCTU had worked to distance themselves from her tactics in life, they later created a gravestone to mark her final resting spot.


Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition “She Hath Done What She Could”

*Overwhelmingly the snappy quotes in here came from this source, via Wiki.

**Barrel organ/Concertina



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