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Carry A. Nation

Studio portrait of  Carry Amelia NationProhibition activist. Born: November 25, 1846, Kentucky. Married: Charles Gloyd, 1867;  David Nation, 1874.  Died: June 9, 1911, Leavenworth, Kansas.

Carrie Amelia Moore was born November 25, 1846, in Garrard County, Kentucky, to George and Mary (Campbell) Moore. The family relocated to Cass County, Missouri, and during the Civil War, to the Kansas City area. There Moore helped nurse those injured at nearby Independence, Missouri.

Moore married a young Civil War doctor, Charles Gloyd, on November 21, 1867. The couple separated shortly before the birth of their daughter, Charlien. Gloyd died as a result of alcohol the next year. She married David Nation on December 27, 1874. They moved to Brazoria County, Texas, to operate a cotton plantation. After that venture failed, the Nations moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where he was a minister and she became involved in religious and civic activities. She organized a local branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and campaigned for enforcement of the state’s liquor laws. Nation was also a supporter of women’s suffrage and women’s rights.

Nation and her “Home Defenders" conducted their first raid in December 1894 at a local “pharmacy.” Nation led the group into the store and announced, “Mr. Day, the ladies of the WCTU want to see what you have in here,” she said.  “Women, this is whiskey.” The women overturned a keg, rolled it out the door, and smashed the contents on the ground, which they lit and burned. Armed with a brickbat, Nation attacked as many as six bars in Kiowa in June 1900. On December 27, 1900, the women smashed the elaborate bar in the Hotel Carey in Wichita. It was here that Nation began using a hatchet. After a raid at Enterprise, Nation turned her focus to the capital city.

Nation arrived January 26, 1901, in Topeka and found an appropriate stage for her activities. The Kansas Legislature was in session. Several saloons were illegally operating in the city, including the Senate Saloon, often patronized by legislators. The Kansas State Temperance Union was gathering in Topeka for its annual state convention. This assured a gathering that was somewhat sympathetic to Nation's cause, if not necessarily her actions.

A crowd gathered when she arrived at the train station and she was quickly recognized. She wore a full-length black dress, white ribbon bow at her neck (a temperance symbol), black cotton stockings, square-toed shoes, fringed gray shawl, and black poke bonnet. People were curious to see the famous Carry Nation in action smashing a joint. She was led to several saloons where she warned the owners to close their "murder shops." The wife of a joint-keeper hit Nation on the side of the head with a broom, knocking her bonnet off. It was reported that as Nation bent over to pick up the bonnet, the jointist's wife "smote her upon that portion of the anatomy which chanced to be uppermost."

Nation met with Governor William Stanley and pled for the state’s laws to be enforced. Stanley gave her no assurances and referred her to the attorney general. She pointed to a black eye she had received at Enterprise and said, "Governor, you gave me that black eye." After listening to her statements, a rattled Governor Stanley told her, "You are a woman, but a woman must know a woman's place. They can't come in here and raise this kind of disturbance."

On January 31, 1901, Nation, with a large group of supporters, marched to lower Kansas Avenue to visit the saloons and talk with the owners. Tipped off that she was coming, the jointists threw up barricades in front of their businesses. Upon arriving and seeing the barricades with the jointists peering out from behind them, Nation laughed and called to the men, "Aren't you going to let your mother in, boys? She wants to talk with you."

View of the Enterprise, Kansas, city marshal leading Carry Nation to jail, 1901What followed was extraordinary. Nation spoke gently to the jointists, and gradually they came out from behind the barricades to hear what she had to say. She urged them to close their joints, and made it clear through calm and polite words that she was determined to see them closed. But there were no hatchetations that day. She wanted the jointists to consider what alcohol did to families, and hoped they would close their businesses and abide by the law.

Nation's Topeka visit drew criticism from the media. One reporter from upstate New York called her, "Short and dumpy of figure, rather than tall and commanding; nervous and flighty of manner rather than calm and impressing . . ." Emporia's William Allen White had similar negative comments about Nation.

Almost another week passed before Nation and her "Home Defenders," as her supporters came to be known, smashed their first Topeka joint, the Senate Saloon. More quickly followed and Nation was arrested.  Before she laid down her hatchet in 1901 and took her fight to the printing press, Nation was arrested 30 different times and David Nation filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion.

Photo of Carry A. Nation in Topeka jail, 1901

As editor of the Smasher’s Mail, Nation invited discussion regarding the issue of prohibition. “There are but two sides in this question,” she wrote, “the children of God and the children of the devil.” She printed letters from supporters and opponents alike. “There is no sense or reason in such as you, and the sooner you are given a lesson in common sense, the better,” wrote J. L. Ward. “ . . . I believe Mrs. Nation has accomplished more in a few days than the rest of us have by many years of hard service,” wrote an Emporia woman. The newspaper ceased publication at the end of the year and Nation continued to enjoy international fame on the lecture circuit

Nation had built an international reputation and found success with the lecture circuit. She sold photographs, hatchet pins, and “Home Defender” buttons to fund her efforts. A year before Kansas women received the right to vote, Nation died, June 9, 1911, in Leavenworth, Kansas. Her own chosen epitaph reads, "she hath done what she could." Prohibition became a federal law in 1919, but was repealed in 1933. Kansas voters finally repealed the state’s prohibition amendment in 1948. Her home in Medicine Lodge was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Entry: Nation, Carry A.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2010

Date Modified: August 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.