Carry Amelia Moore was born in Garrard County, Kentucky on November 25, 1846 to her parents George and Mary Moore. George had developed several hundred acres in Garrard County into a large farm and cattle operation and used slaves to work the land.
Carry loved preaching, even as a young child. When she would find a dead mouse or bird on the farm, she would gather her siblings, slave children, and neighborhood kids to attend a funeral for the animal. She would preach at the funeral, but sometimes she would get so dramatic talking about hellfire and eternal damnation, that some of the younger kids would get scared and cover their eyes.
Carry also adored her father, so much so that she even filed her own teeth down to match her dad’s that had been worn away from using a cornpipe his whole life. Carry was George’s favorite child, but as she got closer to puberty, he tried his hardest to change her from a tomboy to a proper lady. Mary, Carry’s mother, was not as close to Carry as George was. Mary forced Carry to sleep with the slaves and eat with them for most of Carry’s childhood. Mary suffered from mental illness and would sometimes believe that she was Queen Victoria. Mary had George build her a carriage that she would ride around the farm with a driver wearing a top hat and a young male slave would ride on the back and would jump off to open the gates.
During the civil war, George moved his family around to several different states including Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. The family had had to give up all of their slaves due to emancipation and Mary was very mentally ill at this time so Carry took over looking after the house and the small children. In November of 1865, Charles Gloyd arrived at the new Moore Farm that was located seven miles away from Peculiar, Missouri. Before the civil war, Gloyd had been a teacher while also studying medicine and then served as a doctor and captain for the Union during the civil war. Gloyd told Carry how he narrowly avoided being court-martialed when he disobeyed a colonel’s order to punish some of the confederate patients in his care.
After the Civil War ended, Gloyd was looking for the perfect town to set up his medical practice and decided to teach at various towns until he found it. He had come to the Moore farm to look for a teaching job since the Moores had an established farm and several school-aged children. The Moores allowed Gloyd to stay at the farm while he taught children in the surrounding area, including some of Carry’s younger siblings. Carry and Gloyd began to develop a relationship. Carry saw Gloyd as this educated, well-traveled man. Carry’s parents didn’t think Gloyd was an appropriate match for Carry though and Mary even forbade Carry from talking to Gloyd, so instead they would exchange letters by hiding them in a book of Shakespeare that Gloyd kept on his nightstand. Gloyd was a heavy drinker and Carry’s parents were against Carry marrying an alcoholic.
Gloyd eventually decided on the town of Holden, Missouri to set up his medical practice and asked Carry to marry him. Gloyd and Carry married on November 21, 1867, four days before her 21
st birthday and Gloyd showed up smelling of alcohol and cloves. Gloyd and Carry moved to Holden shortly after getting married. Within days of their wedding, Carry finally realized just how bad Gloyd’s drinking was. Gloyd would often spend days at the local Masonic lodge while he was on a drinking binge. Carry would beg the other mason members to help get her husband home, but nobody helped. After only a few months of marriage, Carry returned to her parent’s farm while she was pregnant and gave birth to a daughter she named Charlien on September 27, 1868. Gloyd never met his daughter and died six months after Charlien was born. Records show that he died from “delirium tremens or from pneumonia compounded by excessive drinking.”
Carry enrolled in the State Normal School #2, which is now the University of Central Missouri, to obtain her teaching certificate and graduated in July 1872. Carry got a job teaching at an elementary school in Holden. After four years of teaching, she was fired when a school board member made objections to her teaching children unconventional pronunciations of words. That school board member’s niece was then hired to replace Carry. So now without a way to support herself and her daughter, Carry decided it was time to find another husband. Carry married David Nation on December 30, 1874. Carry had met David when he had handled her legal affairs after Gloyd’s death. David was 19 years older than Carry and was a widower with a four year old daughter named Lola.
In 1877, David bought a cotton farm in Texas and moved the family there. When the cotton farm business didn’t work out, he left the family there and moved by himself to Brazoria, Texas to set up a law practice while Carry began to manage a run-down hotel in Columbia, Texas to help with finances. In 1879, Carry bought a hotel in Richmond, Texas. This was also around the time that Carry had began to have dreams and visions that she was sure were prophetic. In 1889, David accepted a minister position in Medicine Lodge, Kansas and Carry moved there shortly after. Both Charlien and Lola were married at this time and stayed in Texas. This was also around the time that Carry’s mother was placed into a mental institution in Nevada, Missouri where she would spend the rest of her life.
Carry was soon known as Mother Nation by her husband’s church members because of all of her charity work with the poor. Carry would also write sermons for David, but she would often cut off him off while he was giving the sermons in church when she felt that he had talked long enough. Carry would walk up to the pulpit, close his Bible, and escort him out of the church.
Carry’s charity work included being a jail evangelist where she would visit prisoners and preach to them. Carry listened to many prisoners blaming alcohol as the reason they were locked up. So when Carry heard about the Women’s Christian Temperance Union or WCTU, she decided to start a chapter in Medicine Lodge in 1892. The WCTU’s stated purpose was to create a sober and pure world by abstinence, purity, and evangelical Christianity and called for the entire prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors as a beverage. The WCTU saw alcohol as the cause of many of society’s problems.
Since 1881, Kansas had a constitutional amendment that banned the manufacture or sale of alcohol except for medicinal, scientific, or mechanical purposes. However, nobody in Kansas really took the amendment seriously and there were several saloons across the state. Carry went to local authorities to shut down these saloons, but they ignored her. So Carry and other members of the local WCTU chapter stood outside of the saloons and prayed, preached, and sang, hoping to keep people from going inside,
however most people just ignored them and kept drinking. Carry began to greet bartenders in the street with “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.”
Carry began to travel to nearby communities and give sermons on the evils of alcohol and she began to gain a following. In 1899, Cain and WCTU members went into a saloon owned by a man named Matt Strong. They began to sing and pray in the saloon and Matt Strong got mad the they were upsetting his customers, so he threw Nation out into the street. A crowd quickly formed outside of the saloon and fist fights broke out between Carry’s supporters and saloon goers. After the fights were broken up, police closed Strong’s saloons. This gave Carry a boost in confidence and she used the same tactics on the rest of the saloons in Medicine Lodge along with physicians that would prescribe alcohol and pharmacists that would fill the prescriptions. It didn’t take long until Carry had shut down every saloon in Medicine Lodge.
On June 6, 1900, Carry woke up from a dream when she heard a voice saying “Go to Kiowa. I’ll stand by you.” Carry obviously took this as a message from God, so she hooked up her horse to her buggy and set out for Kiowa alone. While making her to Kiowa, Carry had visions of evil creatures trying to block her on the road, but when she prayed an angel would appear to scare off the evil creatures. As soon as she arrived in Kiowa, Carry made her way to Jasper Dobson’s saloon. She took some bricks into the saloon with her and started smashing the mirror behind the bar and all of the liquor bottles. She then moved on to two other saloons and broke all the mirrors and bottles in those saloons. Then Carry stood in the middle of the street that she had broken no laws because the saloon owners and law enforcement that had failed to prosecute the saloon owners were the lawbreakers. This seemed to convince authorities and they didn’t arrest her, instead they issued warrants to the saloons in town and closed them all down.
Carry prayed and asked God where she should go next. The day after Christmas in 1900, Carry went to Wichita, Kansas. She went to one of the nicer hotels in town, the Hotel Carey. When Carry saw that the bar in the Hotel Carey sold liquor and had a painting of a naked Cleopatra, she decided that this was as good of a place as any to start her destruction in Wichita. That night, Carry came back to the bar with bricks, an iron rod, and her cane. She first destroyed the painting, and then took out the mirror and liquor bottles. The police arrived and arrested her. Carry told them “You put me in here a cub, but I will go out a roaring lion and I will make all hell howl.” Carry was charged with malicious destruction of property, which Carry countered that she had destroyed malicious property and cited the law that a common nuisance may be removed by any individual.
After smashing the Hotel Carey, the national WCTU organization took notice of Carry and she began to get national attention. There were op eds written about her in papers, some praised her actions while others condemned them. An editor for the Emporia Gazette wrote “Hurrah for Carry, she has aroused the law abiding people of Kansas to the disgrace of law breakers partly by her own lawlessness.” In the Wichita Eagle, an editor called her crazy and even went so far as to say she was being kept in a padded cell and that it would be only a matter of time until she would be in the insane asylum.
After being released from jail, Carry was invited to speak at a WCTU meeting in Wichita. At this meeting, Carry recruited four women to help her in her destruction of saloons. On January 21, 1901, the women destroyed two bars using random tools from their homes while Carry used a hatchet. Carry and the women were arrested and jailed for a short amount of time but were released when they promised that
they wouldn’t smash any more bars in Wichita. So, Carry moved on to Enterprise Kansas and tried destroying a tavern there. The tavern owner had female friends there that punched Carry, hit her with whips, kicker her, pulled her hair, and threatened to kill her. Carry moved on to Holt, Kansas and then Topeka. Carry and her supporters tried to enter several saloons in Topeka, but was unsuccessful. At one saloon, the owner’s mistress hit Carry in the head with a broomstick four times and opened up a deep gash on her head. So Carry decided to take her fight to the state legislature. Carry yelled at state legislatures and the governor for not enforcing the ban on alcohol.
Carry then organized her supporters into a group called the Home Defenders Army which also received the nickname the Hatchet Brigade. The group had between 200 and 500 hundred members that would help Carry destroy saloons. On February 5, 1901, Carry and three other members of the WCTU went into a saloon called the Senate because several of the state’s legislators would go there to drink. Nation later described the incident:
“I ran behind the bar, smashed the mirror and all the bottles under it; picked up the cash register, threw it down; then broke the faucets of the refrigerator, opened the door and cut the rubber tubes that conducted the beer. Of course it began to fly all over the house. I threw over the slot machine, breaking it up and I got from it a sharp piece of iron with which I opened the bungs of the beer kegs, and opened the faucets of the barrels, and then the beer flew in every direction and I was completely saturated.”
By the way, Carry Nation was six foot tall and was from all accounts, very strong for a woman. Carry was arrested, but the police chief sympathized with her cause and released her. The police chief then ordered all bars in Topeka to be closed by February 15, 1901 and to have all of their bar supplies out of town by then too. On February 12, 1901, the State Temperance Union Convention awarded Carry a gold medal with the inscription “The Bravest woman in Kansas.” Carry continued her raids of saloons across the state of Kansas. She gained more followers, but the WCTU started to see Carry and her destruction of property as an embarrassment and decreased their support of her. Carry addressed the WCTU’s lack of support of her actions and wrote:
“Our mothers and grandmothers who went into saloons praying and spilling the poisoned slop of these houses of crime and tears were blessed in their deeds. Oh! That the WCTU would do as they did, what a reform would take place. I love the organization of mothers. I love their holy impulses but I am heart-sick at their conventionality, their red tape. The organization could put out of existence every drinking hell in the United State if they would demand it and use the power they have even without the ballot.”
Even though she is obviously disappointed in the WCTU, Carry kept her WCTU membership for the rest of her life and often gave the organization money and property. Carry quickly became a popular speaker and was invited to give speeches across the United States and even in Canada. She would wear all black and take a hatchet with her. Carry would make between $75 and $100 ($2,300 and $3,100 today) for each speaking engagement and would also sell miniature hatchets for 25 cents a piece ($8). David wrote to Carry that he would seek a divorce if she didn’t stop her lecture circuit and come home, so with the money to be able to support herself, Carry and David divorced on November 27, 1901 on the grounds of desertion. Carry wrote “For years I never saw a loving husband that I did not envy the wife; it was a cry of my heart for love. I used to ask God why he denied me this. I can see now why it was. I know it was God’s
will for me to marry Mr. Nation. Had I married a man I could have loved, God could never have used me.”
Carry continued to travel and speak to crowds and would try to convince saloon owners to close their bars, even in states without prohibition laws. She was usually either barred from entering the saloons or arrested. Carry would use the money she made from speaking to pay her court fines. It is estimated the Carry was arrested close to 100 times. Carry was invited to speak at universities including Harvard and Yale. Some students would come to listen earnestly, but many students came to her speeches just to make fun of her. In 1903, a group of students at Yale asked if she would take a photo with them. Just as the picture was being taken, the students struck poses that looked like they were drunk and some of them took out cigarettes, which Carry also hated. There was also a short film called Kansas Saloon Smashers that showed a group of women all wearing black destroying a saloon.
In 1903, Carry had the spelling of her first name changed from “C-a-r-r-i-e” to “C-a-r-r-y” so that her name was Carry A. Nation because she believed it was her God-given mission to Carry A. Nation to prohibition. In November, 1908, Carry went on a lecture circuit through Scotland, England, and Ireland and would speak to prohibition groups there. After Carry would give her speeches to the prohibition groups, she would try to find lecture people about the evils of alcohol that she thought needed her message and she was usually met with those people throwing rotten eggs and vegetables at her. After returning to the United States, Carry settled down in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and opened a house she called Hatchet Hall that would take in alcoholics as boarders. In January, 1911 Carry was giving a speech in Eureka Springs when she collapsed on stage. She was taken to a hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas, where she stayed until she died on June 2, 1911. Carry was buried next to her mother in Belton, Missouri, but her grave was left unmarked until 1924 because they were afraid that people would vandalize her grave. When a tombstone was finally put up it read “Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition. ‘She Hath Done What She Could.’”
In 1919, eight years after Carry A. Nation died, the United States Congress ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. This amendment is also known as prohibition. Prohibition came to an end in 1933, when Congress ratified the 21st amendment.
“Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life” by Fran Grace
“Carry Nation: The Kansas Cyclone” by Patricia Ashman in Feminist Frontiers: Women Who Shaped The Midwest
“Activist Carry Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Booze Bottles Before Prohibition” by Erin Blakemore
“Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation” by Carry A. Nation