Carrie Nation did not have an easy life. Born Carry Amelia Moore on born Nov. 25, 1846 in Garrard county, Kentucky, she grew up poor. She spent time with her siblings on her father’s farm, and eventually changed her name to Carrie. As tensions grew ahead of the Civil War, her father moved the family from Kentucky to Cass County, Missouri. However, instead of finding less tension the family found more. They bounced from Missouri to Texas and back to Missouri, ending up in Kansas City. Carrie nursed wounded soldiers at the hospital in Independence. The family suffered much hardship during the war. Her mother ended her days in an insane asylum thinking she was Queen Victoria.
Soon after the war ended, Carrie married Charles Gloyd in 1867. The pair were very much in love and had one child, a daughter named Charlien. However, Charles Gloyd had a problem. He was an alcoholic. It became very clear Charles could not support their growing family, and heartbroken Carrie left him and returned to her family home. Six months later Charles Gloyd died. Carrie lived with her daughter and her mother-in-law, and made her living teaching school.
In 1874, she met and married David Nation, a widower with children. The new family moved to Texas, where David practiced law and Carrie ran a hotel. There was an awakening going on in Carrie’s life. She had always been a deeply religious person, but now she was having visions and dreams where God spoke to her. Her husband was affected by this change as well, and became more religious. He changed his profession to minister, and in 1889 the family moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. There Carrie took up charity work and had a deep interest in the plight of women and other underprivileged people. She was known for her generosity and became known as “Mother Nation.”
He work with prisoners underscored her hatred of alcohol She believed many of the men in jails were there because of drink, and she had seen the havoc it had wreaked in her first husband’s life. She says in her autobiography, “I learned that almost everyone who was in jail was directly there from the influence of intoxicating drinks. I began to ask why we should bear the result of the saloon, when Kansas was a prohibition state, and the constitution made it a crime to manufacture, barter, sell, or give away intoxicating drinks.” Carrie founded a chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, WCTU, in Medicine Lodge and became quite active. Prohibition was the law in Kansas, but in 1890 a decision by the Supreme Court to allow the importation and sale of liquor in “original packages” weakened these laws. Kansas towns were full of illegal saloons and drinking establishments that the law turned a blind eye to. This state of affairs was not acceptable to Carrie. She led members of her chapter of the WCTU in loud hymn singing outside the saloons of Medicine Lodge. She ministered to men who had succumbed to drink and “fallen women” and many repented. She was kind and considerate to the less fortunate and always compassionate to their situation. However, watching drink lead the people she was ministering to into sin made her angry.
Carrie prayed to God for direction. What could she do to stop this evil? She begged God to use him for His will. In the early morning hours of June 5, 1900 she received her answer. She described the vision, “The next morning I was awakened by a voice which seemed to me speaking in my heart, these words, “GO TO KIOWA,” 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.” And smash them she did. She marched to Dobson’s Saloon in Kiowa, Kansas and announced, “Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate” Then she took large rocks from a handbag and began smashing up the bar. She went through the town of Kiowa and smashed up two more saloons in a similar manner.
She continued her tear through Wichita, Kansas smashing up saloons as she went. Her husband jokingly suggested she should just use a hatchet. She told him, “That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.” Unfortunately, that was the only thing the pair agreed on. David Nation was embarrassed by the publicity his wife was garnering and divorced her in 1901 on the grounds of “cruelty and desertion.” She was awarded their house in the divorce, which she sold for $300 and used the proceeds to start the “Home for Drunkard’s Wives in Kansas City”.
Even without her husband, Carrie and her hatchet went on. She was arrested at least 30 times for her “hatchetations”, where she went into a saloon either alone or with hymn singing women and destroyed the place. Carrie described herself as a bulldog at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He didn’t like. She was an imposing woman- nearly 6 feet tall and 180 pounds. It is said prize-fighter John L Sullivan ran and hid when she busted into his New York saloon. Her formidable size and personality did not stop beatings when arrested or other personal attacks. She could never be charged as she was doing what the constables should have been doing under the law. It was technically illegal to have a saloon in Kansas. The WCTU awarded her a gold medallion inscribed, “To the Bravest Woman in Kansas.” She paid for her bail by selling souvenir hatchets and through speaking engagements.
She changed the spelling of her name back to “Carry” and used it as a part of a slogan- ““Carry A Nation for Prohibition”. She went on numerous speaking tours, even to Great Britain. People made great sport of the passionate advocate. A group of college students lured her to speak at their campus, then took the her appearance as an opportunity to deride her. Instead of calling them out, she gently admonished them. She championed women’s suffrage saying, “The loving moral influence of mothers must be put in the ballot box.”
Near the end of her life, she moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but still remained active in the temperance movement as well as in women’s suffrage In 1911, she collapsed while giving a speech and was taken to a hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas. She died there and was buried next to her mother in Cass County, Missouri. It was an unmarked grave, but the WCTU had a stone erected with the inscription, “Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could”.
Sources available on request