Online Exhibits - Carry A. Nation, Part 5
The Famous and Original Bar Room Smasher
Nation's prohibition crusade occurred in a time of many reform movements. Reformers advocated change on issues such as votes for women, smoking, women's dress, and gambling. They believed that human behavior could be corrected through persuasion and legislation.
Like many reformers, Carry Nation did not limit herself to a single cause. She saw her actions as part of a larger effort to improve society. In addition to her anti-alcohol campaign, Nation was outspoken on a number of other reform issues.
Home & Family
The concept of women as "Home Defenders" was central to the prohibition movement. Women were seen as protecting the home from the ravages of alcohol and other vices.
Nation was concerned for the wives and children of drunkards. She raised money to purchase this building (top, right) for them in Kansas City, Kansas, by selling her Medicine Lodge home after the divorce from David Nation.
Carry Nation shared other reformers' concerns about tight clothing for women. In fact, most doctors advised women not to wear corsets because of the negative effects on females' vital organs. Efforts to make women's dress more comfortable did not catch on because corsets had long been fashionable and continued to be so well into the 20th century.
Nation refused to wear a corset, believing its restrictive nature was unnatural. It is clear from photographs of her that she does not have the smooth-waisted silhouette so popular at the time. The reformer took her crusade one step further by advising young men not to marry women who wore corsets.
Of all the reform movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women's suffrage (allowing women to vote in elections) was perhaps the most controversial. Women realized that without the power to vote, their reform efforts would be much more difficult.
The Women's Christian Temperance Union organized and gained strength in the second half of the 19th century. Much of its success was attributed to the leadership of the distinguished and well-educated Frances Willard.
Commissioned in 1893, the pastel "American Woman and her Political Peers" (bottom, right) comments on the limited political power of women. Willard is portrayed in the center, surrounded by depictions of other citizens who were denied the vote.
Kansas women received the right to vote in 1912, eight years before national suffrage took effect. Nation took up the cause of women's suffrage as part of her prohibition crusade, saying, "You refused me the vote and I had to use a rock."
Smoking's effects on health and hygiene have long generated controversy. Reformers attacked tobacco use because they saw it as unhealthy and a dirty, rude habit. Cigarettes in particular were singled out because they were cheap and readily available to children.
Tobacco earned Nation's wrath almost as much as alcohol. It was not unusual for her to approach a man on the street, pull a cigar out of his mouth, throw it down, and stomp on it.
"[It is] the rudest thing . . . a man throwing his smoke into the face of women and children as they pass up and down the street. Have you a right to throw in my mouth what you puff out of yours? That foul smoke and breath! And you would like to be called a gentleman."
--The Smasher's Mail, March 23, 1901
In 1904 a story circulated that Nation had placed a wager with anti-cigarette crusader Lucy Page Gaston over whether President Theodore Roosevelt smoked. The story usually indicated that Nation lost the wager.
Was Nation right about Roosevelt being a smoker? Probably not. Roosevelt suffered from asthma and apparently smoked a cigar as a child when it was believed doing so would help his condition, but that appears to be his only experience with tobacco.
Nation's version of the wager appears in her autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation (1908).
In the spring of 1904, I was in the office of Miss Lucy Gaston, the National President of the Anti-Cigarette League. I saw on her walls of her room Mr. Roosevelt's picture. I said, "My dear Miss Lucy, why do you have that picture in here? Don't you know he is a cigarette smoker?" She said, she did not know it. I said: "Let me tear that up." Did this man who is at the head of affairs in this nation ever say a word against this vice? Although he is sworn to protect from just such. This brave, good woman, whose heart, soul and body is dedicated to saving the young men of our land did not seem to recognize the fact that Democrats and Republicans (so-called) were the head and front of all the corruption we have. At last, I said: "If you will write to Mr. Roosevelt and get his statement that he does not, nor ever did smoke cigarettes I will give you $50 for your work," she said she would. She wrote to the President, got no response from him, but Mr. Loeb, his secretary wrote that the President, did not and had never used tobacco in any form. . . . I wrote her that old birds were not easily fooled with chaff, also stating, that if she would get a statement that Mr. Roosevelt was not a beer drinker, I would give her another $50.00. Of course she could not do this, but the Republican Press published all over the country that Miss Gaston got the evidence and I paid the $50.00, but not one word of this was true.
Carry A. Nation is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.
- How Well Do You Know Carry Nation? - Fun quiz.
- Hatchetations and Home Defenders - Why reformers smashed saloons.
- Paying the Bills - Selling hatchet pins, buttons, and newsletters.
- Taking on the Role of Crusader - Personal tragedies in Nation's life.
- Other Crusades - Women's health, woman suffrage, and anti-smoking.
- An International Figure - People all over the world followed Nation's work.
- She Hath Done What She Could - Final days in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
- An American Icon - Carry Nation is a household name today.
- Temperance Timeline - Timeline of alcohol reform.
Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org