Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down

Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down

Donna Patricia Ward - June 9, 2018

Americans were drunks in the 19th century. During an era when water-borne illnesses were common and could kill a person within 24 hours, distilled spirts, wine, and hard cider were the drinks of choice. As industrialization began to overtake farming and artisan craftsmanship, people grew more and more fearful of change. To cope with rapid change, people turned to evangelical revivals. Throughout the young nation, tent revivals drew thousands of people. Some lasted just a few days while others lasted weeks. Pius women played important roles in organizing, managing, and participating in the revivals. Women were key to expanding the ideals of religious piety during the Second Great Awakening.

A key component of the revivals was abstaining from distilled spirits. Drinking caused men and women to neglect their families, turn to a life of crime and violence. By eliminating distilled sprits like rum, whiskey, and gin, debauchery, crime, and neglect would not compromise families and adversely impact society. In 1826 Boston, the American Temperance Society (ATS) met for the first time. By 1836, over 1 million people had joined ATS and formed local chapters. All members took an oath proclaiming the evils of distilled spirts and never to partake in them. For the next 100 years, the ATS worked toward the prohibition of making, selling, and consuming alcohol. One such advocate was a woman named Carrie Nation.

Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down
Moore farmhouse in Case County, Missouri. The State Historical Society of Missouri.

An Early Calling

Carry “Carrie” Amelia Moore was born in 1846 in Kentucky. There she lived on her father’s farm. Her father owned slaves and Carrie spent a lot of time with her “aunts” and their children. In her autobiography, Carry called her father “one of the noblest works of God.” By 1854 the Moores had moved to Cass County, Missouri. Life along the Kansas-Missouri border was extremely violent. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions morphed into pro-Confederate and pro-Union warfare long before the Civil War began.

When the American Civil War finally broke out in 1861, Missouri had two governments with one loyal to the Union and one loyal to the Confederacy. Over 3 million people were forced from their homes, the Moores included. Fleeing the war, the family moved to Texas. A year later they returned to Missouri when Union forces occupied the state. Raids remained common and Carrie and a friend traveled to Independence, Missouri to care for the wounded. There she witnessed the horrors of humanity.

When Carrie was 21 she fell in love with a boarder on her father’s farm. Charles Gloyd was a former Union soldier, young physician, and an alcoholic. Perhaps Carrie overlooked the reliance that her soon-to-be husband had on hard liquor, after all male suitors were not in large supply after the war. Carrie loved Charles and abasing family wishes, she married him on November 21, 1867. On September 27, 1868, Carrie gave birth to a daughter. Six months later, Charles died due to extreme alcohol use. Carrie was heartbroken and forced to return to her father’s farm.

Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down
Carry Nation after marriage to David Nation in 1874. Wikipedia.

Carrie sold her husband’s medical books and equipment along with land her father had given her and moved with her newborn daughter and mother-in-law to Holden, Missouri. She enrolled in the state’s Normal School and became a teacher for several years. Life improved for Carry when she met David Nation. He was a reporter and 19 years older than her. They married in 1874 and in 1877 moved their blended family to Texas where David practiced law and Carry ran a hotel. Throughout her life, Carry Nation was a devoted and religious woman. While living in Texas she reportedly had visions and dreams of God speaking to her.

In 1889 David Nation became a preacher and moved his family to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. There, Carrie became known as Mother Nation for her charity and religious work. She was drawn to helping children and prisoners and had a reputation for being a very generous woman. In connection with her religious beliefs, Carrie believed that alcohol was the cause for the imprisonment of many, the abandonment of wives and children, and violent behavior. She organized a chapter of the Women’s Christina Temperance Union (WCTU) which was crucial in passing a Kansas law that made selling alcohol illegal.

Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down
Home in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. National Register of Historic Places.

A Militant Activist

Carrie Nation was 6 feet tall; she stood out more than most women of the age. While she was living in Medicine Lodge, her and fellow members of the WCTU stood outside of the bars praying and singing loudly. The humiliation they imposed upon the bar patrons turned out to be bad for business and soon, Medicine Lodge’s bars were closed. Nation reported to friends and family that God spoke to her and told her to go to Kiowa, Kansas to close the bars there.

In 1900, Carrie Nation left for Kiowa. Instead of standing outside the bars simply singing and praying loudly, she began to throw bricks. This 6 foot woman was hurling bricks through street-side windows of Kiowa’s bars. The glass shattered and patrons fled. Fearful for their lives, bar patrons did not return and they drinking establishments shut down. Carrie Nation had won a victory for God and for the abandoned and beaten women of Kiowa whose husbands and fathers preferred the drink over their own families.

Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down
Smashed bar in Wichita, Kansas. The Missouri State Historical Society.

After the bars shuttered in Kiowa, Carrie did not move to Wichita and Topeka. As she preached in her booming voice, a passerby handed the tall woman a hatchet. Her new weapon was rarely far from her and she used it to smash windows in what the newspapers were calling “smash ups.” Using such destructive tactics made her a target of ridicule.

Carrie Nation was arrested and jailed numerous times. She was spit on and cursed at, yet never wavered from her stance that alcohol was the cause of all evil. Members of the Kansas WCTU loved Carrie’s tactics. They awarded her a gold medallion that was inscribed, “To the Bravest Woman in Kansas.”

As Carrie focused on her mission to rid her corner of the world of alcohol, her marriage fell apart and she divorced. Left without finical support, she sold small pewter hatchets. The novelty items sold relatively well and combined with the income she made from speaking engagements, Carrie was able to save money. In an ironic twist, she earned the respect of a black politician and bar owner who published Carrie’s first newspaper, The Smasher’s Mail.

Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down
Carry A. Nation on a speaking tour. The Missouri State Historical Society.

Growing A Cause

Carrie Nation garnered numerous followers during her “smashing” activism. People wrote to her and she replied with advice on how to win against the saloon owners. She began a new publishing venture, a magazine entitled The Hatchet. She included letters from women in the field, supporters of her cause, and she even offered parenting advice. A large part of the magazine’s editorial and reporting was devoted to the evils of distilled spirits and the need for women to earn the right to vote.

In 1903, Carrie Nation officially change the spelling of her fist name to Carry. She proclaimed that her name was meant to “Carry A Nation for Prohibition.” Encouraged to tell her story, she published an autobiography entitled, “The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation.” The book was a financial success for Nation and she was able to purchase a house in Kansas City, Kansas where she housed women and children that had been abused by their drunk husbands and fathers.

Carry Nation was a controversial figure. The tactics she used to close bars horrified many. Yet, Nation’s message of prohibition resonated with thousands of women and children that had been victimized by drunk husbands and fathers. In a world where women had no vote and very few legal rights, Carry Nation advocated for women’s suffrage. She believed that women and mothers in particular needed the vote so that they could participate in the democratic process of implementing change. She proclaimed that “The loving moral influence of mothers must be put in the ballot box.”

Carry A. Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Bars and Close Them Down
Carry A. Nation. Wikipedia.

After years of speaking engagements and activism, Carry Nation was exhausted. She moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas where she purchased a house. Again, her house was large enough to house herself and several other women who had been victimized by their drunkard husbands. At a lecture in Eureka Springs in January 1911, Carry Nation collapsed. She died on June 2nd and was transported to Belton, Missouri and buried next to her mother.

Carry Nation gained national attention for the temperance movement and women’s suffrage. After her death, the Eighteenth Amendment to United States Constitution passed and was ratified in 1919 prohibiting the sale of alcohol. A year later the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote. In 1933 the United States Constitution was changed again. This time Carry Nation must have rolled over in her grave for Prohibition ended with another constitutional amendment. Carry Nation’s home in Medicine Lodge, Kansas is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Carry A. Nation – Historic Missourians.

Carrie Nation – Wikipedia.

The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation – Carry A. Nation. October 1998.

National Register of Historic Places – National Park Service