Last week I watched part of a Tamron Hall talk show interview of a young woman named Sarah Frei. She and her friends were all physically injured in a totaled crash perpetrated by a drunk driver. Sarah was nearly killed and ended up with amputated legs, is permanently paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, even after this ordeal she seems like a bright and well-adjusted youth with no problems. Closer to the truth, she will never be the same as she was because someone thought he had the right to drink and drive. The following is a bio on one woman who made a serious inroad to stop this inevitability. Her name was Carry and today was her birthday! :
“I felt invincible.
My strength was that of a giant.
God was certainly standing by me.
I smashed five saloons with rocks before I ever took a hatchet (to them).”
“I want all hellions to quit puffing that hell fume in God’s clean air.”
“You have put me in here a cub,
but I will come out roaring like a lion,
and I will make all hell howl!”
Those are just a few of the quotes from our country’s greatest and most vehement of feminists that ever lived in any age. The first is actually an excerpt from her autobiography. You hardly ever hear her name spoken in our century, however. It’s unlikely that she would’ve tolerated, for a slim moment, the vice and addictions that plague our country now. In her days on earth she managed to persuade our nation’s leaders to institute laws of prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Even though it was an era relatively short-lived she left her mark for the good old fashioned American stance of activism and we still bear the banner she carried with science and proactive heroism even in the present day. Apparently she hated cigarette smoking just as badly as alcohol and the public safety and health ads we see in all types of media persist with her basic message.
Of course, as an advocate for God alone, her activism and civil protestations bore the weight of traditional and fundamental principles. She was born in 1846 to George and Mary Moore in Garrard County, Kentucky. Both her parents were Irish but owned a plantation and slaves. The ironies didn’t end there as her mother, Mary, was clinically delusional- believing at first that she was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England and in advanced stages, believed that she was, herself, the Queen of England. Carry had five siblings and all of the children were raised by the slaves at the insistence of her mother.
Her early life was clearly not instrumental or instructive to her adult life and she married early to her first husband, Charles Gloyd, four days before her 21st birthday on November 21, 1867. Even though this marriage was doomed from the start it was Gloyd’s hard-drinking and early death that inspired Carry’s activism against alcohol and other detrimental substances of her day. The only child she bore was Gloyd’s and the girl, named Charlien, had a severe mental disability which Carry attributed to Gloyd’s alcoholism.
She left Dr. Gloyd just months before his passing marking a penchant for traveling away from trouble but Carry did not avoid confrontations and this sparked the beginning of her association with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which was founded in 1874 specifically by women who were rallying against ‘the problems alcohol was causing their families and society.’ In addition to alcohol prohibition, the WCTU lobbied for a long list of social reforms, including women’s suffrage and the fight against tobacco and other drugs. By 1880, Kansas became the first state to adopt a constitutional provision banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol.
She remarried at the end of 1874 to David Nation who was a newspaper editor, preacher and lawyer. They clashed on the subject of religion, interestingly, and this outspokenness extended to parishioners causing the loss of his position at their church! It is widely believed that she was uneducated and early in life her education was insufficient but with money from her inheritance and her deceased husband’s estate she built a small house in Holden, Missouri and eventually attended the Normal Institute in Warrensburg where she earned a teaching certificate in 1872 and subsequently taught school in Holden for four years. She also obtained a degree in history and studied the influence of Greek philosophers on American politics! There was more to Carry than would meet the average eye!
With David, who was twenty years her senior and already had children, she moved to Brazoria county in Texas in 1877 and bought a 1,700 acre cotton plantation. She was not out of her element there as she had moved along with her immediate family to Texas as a child and they passed the Pea Ridge battlefield along the way. She and David both worked at other things rather than farming which made that venture unsuccessful but both adapted by moving along while he practiced law, then ran a saddle shop, then moved back to Medicine Lodge Kansas in 1889 and preached at a church there. Carry ran a successful hotel in East Columbia, TX and she finally stepped up to the plate for her temperance aspiration by starting a local branch of the WCTU and campaigned to ban the sale of liquor in Kansas. She employed more conventional protests in the beginning but escalated to addressing bartenders with remarks like, “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.”
June 5, 1900 marked the day that she claimed to receive a vision in answer to prayers to God for a clear direction. She had already been quite vocal about her lobbies against alcohol and tobacco but her vehement actions against sellers and purveyors started after she prayed to God to tell her what she should do about all of it. Her vision was described by her, in her own words, like this:
“The next morning I was awakened by a voice which seemed to be speaking to my heart, these words, “Go to Kiowa (Kansas),” 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.”
Two days later she traveled to Kiowa and did exactly what she said she was told to do by God, smashing and destroying three separate saloons with large rocks. In each one she announced, “Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate”, to the proprietors and customers. From that time forward she practiced this clear protestation for the next decade until she died at the age of sixty-four at Leavenworth, Kansas. Even though she described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like”, she had clearly hit her stride for getting people’s attention and had the courage to take the problem head on and right at the source. On one occasion, at a store owned by a man known as O. L. Day, she rolled a keg of whiskey onto the street, opened it with a hatchet, and set it on fire. In 1901 she divorced David Nation- a childless marriage. Four years later her daughter, Charlien, from her first marriage was committed to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. Carry made numerous attempts to relocate her daughter to be with her but was unable to keep custody ultimately.
Carry was arrested many times and written up in the newspapers of several states, including Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. She spent time in the Little Rock jail and she was arrested in Hot Springs (Garland County) in the winter of 1907 but she wasn’t widely railed against despite the clear and purposeful violence. She was released at Hot Springs when she made a deal with the mayor to speak at the opening of a new subdivision, for which he paid her fifty dollars. She made an additional sixty dollars selling souvenir hatchets which were her literal trademark. In Little Rock in 1906, she took a tour of twenty-six saloons and bars. She made speeches, and many people admired her. Some followed her on her travels and helped her smash saloons and bars, but she also made a lot of enemies, some of whom threw eggs at her.
Even though Carry did not live long enough to see it, prohibition was established as an 18th amendment and went into effect officially on January 16, 1920- a hundred years ago. Because of speakeasies, which were underground liquor establishments, a lot of drinking of alcohol continued through prohibition days but the suppression was quite clear and the running and patronage of such places was quite dangerous- especially during raids. Because of this, prohibition eventually was considered a failure and repealed on December 5, 1933 with the 21st amendment. Nevertheless, her social reform activism continues in our time with a clear message of the danger and consequences of alcohol abuse with many decades of science to back up claims which were made in her time.
The last speech that Carry gave took place in Eureka Springs, Kansas where she lived on January 13, 1911. She had recently had health problems, but the speech had been going well. Suddenly she stopped and gasped out, “I have done what I could.” She collapsed and was taken to Evergreen Place Hospital in Kansas, where she lapsed into a coma and afterwards remained in poor condition until her death on June 9, 1911. Doctors said the cause of death was paresis; paralysis caused by inflammation of the brain and central nervous system.
Her home in Eureka Springs was eventually turned into a museum called Hatchet Hall- a fit name considering how much money she had made during her adult years selling souvenir hatchets to people in promotion of her bust-up campaigns. Most likely much of that went to springing her out of jail. She had been arrested in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas but only for busting up the businesses. She rarely personally attacked people. Nation’s autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation was begun when she reached the age of sixty while living in Oklahoma. She had planned to live out the rest of her life there, originally, but this resolution did not last long. Not too long after, she bought Hatchet Hall because Eureka Springs reminded her of Scotland which she had recently traveled to on vacation. She turned it into a boarding house and school and did most of the cooking herself. Religious instruction was provided by her for her boarders. Established as a school by 1910 she gave it the name of National College even though the education she provided was generally at lower levels. Her last years were spent traveling, mostly.
Buried at Belton, Missouri, Carry’s grave was left unmarked for years until the WCTU finally erected a gravestone with her name and a quote using her last words: Faithful to the Cause, She Hath Done What She Could. Further afield, a fountain was erected in her honor and memory at a place in Wichita, Kansas close to a bar she busted up as one of her first raids. Unfortunately it was destroyed only a few years later when they had said the driver of a beer truck lost control and ran into it. Only part of that is true. It was leveled but the driver was not driving a beer truck. Hatchet Hall still stands and can be seen and visited in Eureka Springs with a nearby spring named after her.
http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/history/e1900/cn/index.htm (accessed June 3, 2016)
(The link above should help you access Carry’s autobiography. Please let me know if it doesn’t work.)
Taylor, Robert Lewis. Vessel of Wrath: The Life and Times of Carry Nation.
New York: New American Library, Inc., 1966.
Some additional information and anecdotes from the website www.kshs.org/kansapedia by Anastasia Teske flesh out the type of person Carry actually was and imparts many positive qualities to her character aside from her obvious determination. This turn-of-the-20th-century purse became another trademark of hers in that she carried those souvenir hatchets in it besides whatever it was that Christian women carried in their purses in those days. She was photographed with it many times and it became quite popular as a good sturdy leather purse. The photo is of her actual purse and she wrote about it in her book. This passage from it refers to her purse as a valise and describes a trip she took on a steamboat at Fall River between Boston and New York in the summer of 1903 when she was mobbed by a crowd, tried to take refuge in the ladies’ lounge and reprimanded by the captain of the vessel. She described what happened thus:
“When I had finished my lunch, and had put on a clean tie and fixed my hair, I took from my valise a lot of little hatchets and put them in a little leather case I carry by a strap over my shoulder. Thus equipped I entered the ladies cabin, where there were perhaps fifty people sitting. When I went in, they began to look at one another, some smiled; I knew they had heard of the captain’s trying to prevent my coming out. Taking my seat on a sofa in the middle of the room, I was listening to the lovely string band when some one came up and began to talk to me. After a while I was quite surrounded and the cabin soon became crowded. Some one asked to see a little hatchet, so I opened my satchel to show them. One of the officers . . . came up saying, “Madam, you are not allowed to sell these here.” I replied, “You sell wine, beer, whiskey, tobacco, cigarettes and anything that will drug these people. Now these are my own little souvenirs, and they will advertise my cause, help me, and be a little keep sake from the hand that raised the hatchet, so I claim the right to sell them, where you have no right to sell bad things.” He went up to see the captain, who said, “I am too busy to fool with that woman.”. . . We had a nice time. I recited poetry on the evils of drink and smoking. All were happy, and at ten o’clock, I bade good night to many friends who regarded me not as the wild vicious woman, but as one who meant well.”
Nation’s heirs donated a number of items to the Kansas Historical Society in 1999. This donation included WTCU temperance campaign materials as well as clothing, sewing supplies, and even dentures and hairpieces. These personal objects–including Nation’s favorite purse–are in the collections of the Society’s Kansas Museum of History. I wonder what happened to all those souvenir hatchets she sold to people personally. It may be very interesting to find out how many are still put away in drawers and curio cabinets across America!
Could you carry a nation?