Nation, Carry A.

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Carry A. Nation

BORN: November 25, 1846 • Garrard County, Kentucky

DIED: June 9, 1911 • Leavenworth, Kansas

American temperance activist

Carry A. Nation was the most famous figure of the temperance movement in the early twentieth century. In the growing national crusade to outlaw bars, saloons, and the sale of alcohol, she gained an extraordinary measure of fame for her violent strategy of wrecking saloons—and sometimes even nearby billiard halls—with her ever-present hatchet. Nation belonged to a wave of moral crusaders during this era who worked to arouse and incite public opinion against the evils of alcohol, tobacco, and gambling.

"I have destroyed three of your places of business, and if I have broken a statute of Kansas, put me in jail; if I am not a lawbreaker your mayor and councilmen are. You must arrest one of us, for if I am not a criminal, they are."

A Kentucky childhood

There are two variations on the spelling of Carry Nation's first name. Some accounts use "Carrie," but her father had recorded it in the family Bible as "Carry." She sometimes used this spelling, along with her middle initial "A." and married name to draw attention to her cause, which she believed was inspired by God. It drew immense media attention to her campaign. Born Carry Amelia Moore on November 25, 1846, her earliest years were spent in Garrard County, Kentucky, where her father, George Moore, owned a farm as well as the slaves who worked his land.

George Moore's ancestors had been among the first settlers of European heritage to live in that area of Kentucky. Mary Campbell Moore, Nation's mother, was from Virginia and of Scottish descent. Many in the Campbell family suffered from mental illness. Nation's maternal grandmother, as well as her mother's brother and sister, were classified as mentally ill. Nation's mother experienced disturbances that took the form of a psychosis—a serious mental disorder—that caused her to believe that she was Queen Victoria (1819–1901), the reigning ruler of Great Britain at the time. To keep the peace, the Moore family simply played along, sometimes even dressing a few of the slaves to resemble royal palace guards.

As a young child, Nation sought refuge among her family's slaves, who taught her to spin cloth and let her attend their temporary and improvised church services, which she loved. George Moore eventually moved his family further west to Missouri and later to Texas. Because of these moves, Nation had little formal schooling as a child. The American Civil War (1861–65) caused further disruptions in her life. The war was fought between the Union (the North), which was opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy (the South), which was in favor of slavery. Often sick in her early teens, Nation spent months in bed with stomach troubles.

Marries a drinker

By the war's end in 1865, George Moore was financially ruined, having lost his slaves and some land in Texas. The family returned to Missouri. In the fall of 1865, the Moores took in a boarder, someone who pays money in exchange for a room and meals. Nation, then almost nineteen years old, soon fell in love with the boarder—a young physician and recently discharged Union Army captain named Charles Gloyd. Her parents discouraged the romance and after a few months Gloyd moved on to Holden, Missouri, to set up a medical practice there. Despite the family's worries, though, the two wed on November 21, 1867.

Nation's parents had warned her that Gloyd had a drinking problem, but she was deeply in love with him. Soon she found herself living with a husband who neglected his patients and came home late in the evening reeking of liquor. She tried to intervene, going down to the town's Masonic lodge where he drank in order to retrieve him. But the Masons were a secret club that did not admit women into its lodges. None of the members she pleaded with on the street were willing to help her. In her later speeches, she would have harsh words for the Masonic lodges and fraternal orders, which were a feature of nearly every community in the United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Such organizations disrupted a healthy family life, she contended. "There is no society or business that separates man and wife, or calls men from their homes at night, that produces any good results," she declared in her autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation.

Nation finally left her husband and returned to her parents when she had her first child, a daughter she named Charlien. Gloyd died six months later, and Charlien suffered from health problems for much of her life. In her autobiography, Nation blamed her daughter's physical ills on the stress she believed she had inflicted upon the baby while in the womb. The stress was a result, she claimed, of a young wife sick with worry.

Nation felt a duty to support her widowed mother-in-law. By selling some of her late husband's estate, and, with a donation from her father, she built a small house in Holden where the three generations of women lived. Nation earned a teaching certificate at the State Normal School in Warrensburg, Missouri, but had a difficult time finding a steady job. Finally, one day in 1877, she prayed and asked God to send her a husband, if it was right that she should wed again. Not long afterward she met David Nation, editor of the Warrensburg Journal, on the street in Holden. They began writing letters to one another and were married less than two months later.

David Nation was almost twenty years older than his new wife. He was a minister and attorney as well as a journalist. Carry Nation later wrote that they fought constantly over nearly everything, especially her deepening faith in Christianity. "I think my combative nature was largely developed by living with [David]," she wrote in her autobiography, "for I had to fight for everything that I kept."

Turning to temperance

Nation and her new husband tried to make a living as cotton farmers in Texas, an undertaking that eventually failed. They moved to Richmond, Texas, in the 1880s, where Nation ran a hotel. Local political troubles forced them to leave, however, and they settled in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, around 1890. There Nation's husband practiced law, and she again ran a local hotel. She also continued to do charity work, which was a pursuit she had begun in Texas. Her Christian beliefs made her sympathetic to the town's poorest and most destitute citizens, and she often fed them and sheltered the occasional vagrant, as homeless people were called then. She also reached out to women who were burdened with alcoholic, abusive husbands.

Nation first became active in the temperance movement in Medicine Lodge when she joined the local chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Temperance is the belief that people should abstain from drinking alcohol. This organization, founded in New York State in 1874, worked to raise public awareness of the dangers of alcohol, which its pamphlets argued was the cause of many social problems. For example, temperance activists noted that children grew up in terrible poverty when fathers abandoned their duties as parents and financial supporters in favor of drinking. Some fathers spent all their earnings on liquor, leaving mothers with few resources to feed, shelter, and clothe their families. WCTU members also viewed gambling and spousal unfaithfulness as the direct result of alcohol abuse, as well as nearly all violent crimes.

Nation found an outlet for her beliefs in the WCTU work. She visited the local jails on behalf of the group, and she became increasingly outraged that so many men were in custody on alcohol-related crimes when Kansas was technically a prohibition state. An 1880 amendment to the Kansas state constitution actually forbid the sale of alcohol. However, it was still relatively easy to obtain in illegal saloons, which were known as "joints." Local politicians and police officers were among the steady customers, which naturally made them unwilling to enforce the law. Outraged by this obvious illegal activity, Nation began a one-woman campaign to shut down the seven drinking establishments she knew existed in Medicine Lodge. She walked in, although it was rare for women to enter such places by themselves, and either sang hymns or prayed until she was forcibly carried out. She also rallied support against the local pharmacists, who sold alcohol disguised as liquid medicines or tonics.

Smashing saloons

In her autobiography, Nation wrote of the visions she frequently experienced. She viewed such visions as messages from God. She described bleak and hopeless periods when she felt disconnected to her spirituality, and she detailed times when she was given tremendous energy and excitement after another of her otherworldly visions. On June 6, 1899, she had another vision and interpreted it to mean that she should travel to Kiowa, Kansas, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away. Before setting out, she wrapped pieces of brick from her yard inside newspaper, which she called "smashers."

Wayne B. Wheeler

American lawyer Wayne B. Wheeler (1869–1927), who served as the unofficial head of the Anti-Saloon League from 1915 until his death in 1927, turned the pro-prohibition organization into a powerful political lobbying group. A lobbyist is someone who tries to persuade politicians to support a cause. The league worked to raise public awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, and Wheeler secured support at the state and local level for a constitutional amendment to ban all liquor, wine, and beer sales in the United States. His efforts were rewarded on January 16, 1920, when Prohibition went into effect.

Born in Ohio in 1869, Wheeler came from a farm family. Against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to help on the farm, he attended Oberlin College in Ohio. He became active in the temperance movement while a student. He later said his extreme opposition to alcohol stemmed from a few memorable encounters he had with drunken men during his childhood. At Oberlin, Wheeler met fellow lawyer Howard Hyde Russell (1855–1946), a minister and founder of the Anti-Saloon League of Ohio. After earning his degree, Wheeler took a job with the organization in Dayton, Ohio, and began working toward a law degree. He completed his studies at Western Reserve University in 1898 and became the attorney for the Ohio branch of the league. By 1904 he was named head of the Ohio branch. He oversaw a major success a year later when the league's efforts helped defeat Ohio Governor Myron T. Herrick in his reelection campaign. Instead, the league backed a Democrat who favored stricter laws on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the state. The victory spurred the league to move ahead with plans to duplicate that success elsewhere.

The league had grown in membership during the first years of the twentieth century, thanks in part to a growing spirit of social reform in America. Alcohol consumption had increased in recent generations and was linked to many negative social ills, from workplace absenteeism to domestic abuse. There was even a national Prohibition Party, which supported the idea of a constitutional amendment to ban alcohol. However, Wheeler and the league concentrated their efforts on gaining support from Democratic and Republican legislators instead. They forced candidates to state their stance on the issue, and this form of political pressure became known as "Wheelerism."

After 1915 Wheeler served as general counsel for the Anti-Saloon League of America and operated out of its Washington, D.C., base. The onset of World War I (1914–18) helped the Prohibition cause. The league was effective in securing laws on the manufacture and sale of alcohol by arguing that the grain used by brewers and distillers in their liquor-making operations could be better used to feed the soldiers. Another league success came when the U.S. Congress agreed to restart a nationwide ban effort, which would require the agreement of state legislatures. The league's influence at the state level was so strong by then that the deadline for ratification of the measure was met. When Nebraska became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the measure, Prohibition went into effect. The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the import, manufacture, sale, and export of all intoxicating liquors, including beer and wine.

Wheeler spent the remainder of his life fighting those who argued that the amendment was ineffective and had unleashed a rash of other social troubles. In 1927 Wheeler's wife, Ella, died in a fire at their country home, and Wheeler died just weeks later from a kidney disorder. Prohibition came to an end in 1933, which some historians believe might not have happened had Wheeler still been alive to lead the battle. His political-pressure tactics were adopted later in the century by anti-abortion activists.

The next morning, Nation entered the saloon run by James Dobson, who was also the county sheriff. She had warned him a year earlier to stop selling liquor. During this visit she gave him another lecture on the evils of alcohol, then told him to step aside. At that, she threw a brick that shattered the large mirror behind the bar. She went on to another saloon in Kiowa, and did the same, but at the third establishment, her brick did not break the glass. Seizing a billiard ball from the bar's pool table, she threw it and the impact shattered the mirror. Each of the saloons had few men inside, because it was still rather early in the day, but the owners and customers were suitably frightened into submission by her actions. Word spread around town and the other saloon owners quickly closed their joints and stood guard outside. A crowd gathered and she told them, as noted in her autobiography: "I have destroyed three of your places of business, and if I have broken a statute [law] of Kansas, put me in jail; if I am not a law-breaker your mayor and councilmen are. You must arrest one of us, for if I am not a criminal, they are."

The Kiowa incident made Nation famous. The leadership of the WCTU, however, tried to distance itself from her "smashing" campaign. Other women, including some WCTU members, quickly joined her and the movement grew in strength across Kansas. Nation began using rods and canes to sweep all the liquor bottles off the shelves. While she did this, she usually gave grim warnings about the dangers of alcohol. At the saloon attached to the Hotel Carey in Wichita, Kansas, a classy bar that served the city's upper class, she used a hatchet she had brought along.

A national icon

Although she had been sickly in her youth, Nation displayed tremendous physical strength in her later years. She once picked up a heavy iron cash register by herself and threw it out onto the street. In another saloon-smashing incident, a bartender pointed a gun at her but allegedly misfired out of fear when he saw her rip the door off an ice chest. She began gaining national media attention for her escapades in Kansas, and she was regularly mentioned in New York Times headlines that read "Mob Threatens Mrs. Nation" and "The Mrs. Nation Craze." Newspaper cartoonists poked fun at her, usually depicting her in the traditional black and white dress of a church elder that she wore, and with the ever-present hatchet in hand.

Nation was jailed some thirty times over the next ten years. From money she raised from the sale of souvenir hatchets, she was able to pay her bail and get released from jail. She also earned a small income from lecture fees, speaking to temperance organizations around the country. Audiences described her as a thrilling and stirring public speaker, thundering against the evils of alcohol. If insulted by someone in the crowd, she could fire off a humiliating response. She started a weekly newspaper, The Smasher's Mail, but she had a difficult time managing it while crisscrossing the country on her public-speaking engagements. The paper was followed by two other publications, The Hatchet and The Home Defender. Her 1904 autobiography sold more than fifty thousand copies, and that same year she began organizing her Prohibition Federation, an organization with local chapters of anti-alcohol crusaders.

Nation was part of a growing wave of temperance activists. Membership in the WCTU increased, and the Anti-Saloon League, formed in Ohio in the 1890s, had been quite active. Nation was the most visible public figure attached to the movement, but many of its moderate sections distanced themselves from her because of her attention-getting actions. Although she was only effective in shutting down saloons in Kansas, her most lasting impact was on the public debate she aroused in America on the social troubles linked to substance abuse. The Anti-Saloon League grew into a powerful political force with support from its Protestant-church chapters across the country. Calls for a federal law to ban the sale of alcohol grew so strong that nine years after Nation's death, the U.S. Congress enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1919). The amendment, which took effect in 1920, banned the import, manufacture, sale, and export of intoxicating liquors.

The failure of Prohibition

After 1910 Nation retired to a farm in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. She was in her mid-sixties by then and her health had declined. Her final months were spent in a hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas, where she died on June 9, 1911. She was buried in Belton, Missouri, where members of the WCTU installed a grave marker that read, simply, "She hath done what she could."

The Eighteenth Amendment, which went into effect on January 16, 1920, ushered in the Prohibition era of U.S. history. It lasted for thirteen years and has generally been viewed as a failure. Alcohol manufacturing simply went underground, or into hiding, and came under the control of organized crime in most major cities. This control over the illegal market for alcohol enabled criminal gangs to grow in power and form alliances with corrupt government officials and law-enforcement authorities.

The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, or cancelled, by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933. However, grassroots, or local, campaigns like Nation's against substance abuse endured. The most notable successor to Nation's work is the nationwide organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), formed in 1980 by a woman whose daughter was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Its mission is to increase public support for tougher penalties against drunk driving, and it has been especially effective in meeting that goal on the state and local level.

For More Information


Grace, Fran. Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Harvey, Bonnie Carman. Carry A. Nation: Saloon Smasher and Prohibitionist. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2002.

Nation, Carry A. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka, KS: F. M. Steves & Sons, 1904.


Day, Robert. "Carry from Kansas Became a Nation All unto Herself." Smithsonian (April 1989): p. 147.


"Carry A. Nation: The Famous and Original Bar Room Smasher." Kansas State Historical Society. (accessed on July 3, 2006).

Hanson, David J. "National Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S." Alcohol: Problems and Solutions. (accessed on July 3, 2006).

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