Nation, Carry A(melia Moore) 1846-1911
NATION, Carry A(melia Moore) 1846-1911
Born November 25, 1846, in Gerrard County, KY; died June 2, 1911, in Leavenworth, KS; daughter of George (a stock dealer and planter) and Mary (Campbell) Moore; married Charles Gloyd (a physician), November 21, 1867 (died); married David Nation (a lawyer, minister, and journalist), 1877 (divorced, 1901); children: (first marriage) Charlien.
Activist and writer. Worked as a schoolteacher.
Women's Christian Temperance Union.
The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation, F. M. Steves & Sons (Topeka, KS), 1904.
Contributor to periodicals, including Hatchet, Home Defender, and Smasher's Mail.
Carry A. Nation is among the more colorful figures in American social activism. During her heyday in the 1890s and early 1900s, Nation became known throughout the country as an axe-wielding activist given to vehement rants, replete with Biblical references, and violent outbursts which sometimes involved the destruction of private property. "Today," wrote Robert Day in Smithsonian, "her notoriety and fame rest largely on the cartoon image she forged in the nation's press in the early 1900s." He described Nation's image as that of "a huge-headed woman with a hatchet in her right hand and what appear to be pool-table stanchions for legs under a plain black skirt."
Nation was born in 1846 in Gerrard County, Kentucky, and was raised in an atmosphere of religious fanaticism and insanity. After training as a teacher, she married an alcoholic physician, but after becoming pregnant, she left her spouse, who died soon afterward. While raising her child, who proved mentally and physically feeble, Nation worked as a school teacher. In 1877, she married David Nation, a lawyer who had also worked as a minister and journalist, and the couple eventually moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas.
In 1889, after surviving a fierce fire in town, Nation grew increasingly convinced that she had been spared in order to promote Christianity or, more precisely, to oppose what she believed to be hedonism in society. She became active in urging the enforcement of prohibition legislation in Kansas, and in the ensuing years developed a formidable reputation as a temperance activist given to fits and the violent destruction of saloons. Nation's extreme behavior—evident in lectures and other stage appearances as well as her assaults on saloons—exerted considerable appeal to a certain portion of the American public, which pledged support and financed her campaigns through donations and the purchase of such souvenirs as plastic axes. Frances Grace Carver, writing in Religion and American Culture, attributed Nation's celebrity to her "genius at self-promotion and her remarkably media-genic personality."
However, if she proved effective in drawing public attention, Nation failed to entirely galvanize sympathizers, and she even alienated fellow members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In addition, she saw the end of her second marriage when her husband sued for divorce on grounds of desertion. Excursions to San Francisco and Washington, D.C., proved similarly frustrating for Nation, who saw herself increasingly perceived as deranged and violent. Another tour, in which she condemned Ivy League schools as demonic environments, likewise damaged her reputation, and a tour of Great Britain also failed to impress.
After returning from Great Britain, Nation withdrew to her farm in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. When she showed signs of dementia, she gained admittance to a hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas. She died there in 1911.
Nation's writings include an autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation, which she published in 1904, and contributions to various publications advocating her causes. Day reported in Smithsonian that she wrote, "'I believe I have always failed in everything I undertook to do the first time, but I learned only by experience, paid dearly for it and valued it afterwards.'" Day added: "It would be reassuring if we could believe those are the words of a woman who grew wise with age. But it is hard to forget the outrageousness of her later years."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Women Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Grace, Fran, Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 2001.
Religion and American Culture, winter, 1999, Frances Grace Carver, "With Bible in One Hand and Battle-Axe in the Other," p. 31.
Smithsonian, April, 1989, Robert Day, "Carry from Kansas Became a Nation All unto Herself," pp. 147-164.*