Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

NATION, CARRY (1846-1911)

Carry Amelia Nation became famous for her exploits as a direct-action prohibitionist in Kansas. Her career began in 1900, when she single-handedly demolished a number of saloons in Kiowa and Wichita, and the notoriety she cultivated during the next ten years made her a catalyst for antiliquor sentiment throughout the country. Always controversial, she was vilified by some as a crank and lauded by others as a saintly friend and benefactor; yet her image as the woman with a hatchet in one hand (commemorating one of the weapons she wielded against saloons) and a Bible in the other achieved iconographic status. At the beginning of the twentieth century, she was arguably the most notorious woman in America.

She was born Carry Moore in Garrard County, Kentucky, on November 25, 1846. Her father, a planter and stock trader, was frequently away on business; her mother was periodically delusional. Most of the nurture she received as a child came from the family's slaves. Her parents' entrepreneurial ambitions made life peripatetic throughout Carry's youth. After several relocations in Kentucky, they moved to western Missouri in 1857. There, sectional tensions along the Kansas-Missouri border were on the rise. In 1860 they finally put down roots in Cass County, just south of Kansas City, but wartime hostilities forced them to relocate several more times before it was safe to stay there permanently. In 1864–65 Carry lived and studied at the Clay Seminary in Liberty, Missouri. Then her mother's condition worsened, and her father, without slaves, needed her at home to care for her five younger siblings.

Carry was desperately unhappy as the family drudge, and when a young physician named Charles Gloyd proposed marriage, she was eager to accept. She married him on November 21, 1867, too headstrong to heed warnings about his alcoholism. She soon acknowledged the extent of his problem and left him after ten months. She returned to her parents' home and gave birth to her daughter, Charlien, on September 27, 1868.

In 1871–72 Carry Gloyd attended the Missouri State Normal School in Warrensburg and earned a teaching certificate, then taught school in Holden until she lost her position to the niece of a school board member. Unemployed and desperate, she fixed her sights on David Nation, a widower with four children. He was nineteen years her senior and generally unpopular, but she married him anyway on December 30, 1874. Carry later declared that the chief benefit of their long, unhappy marriage was that it had given her a new name, one that prophetically declared her mission to "Carry A. Nation" for the prohibitionist cause.

The Nations lived in Warrensburg for two years, then acquired a cotton plantation in Brazoria County, Texas, where they moved in January 1877. The cotton venture failed, but the prospect of starvation prompted Carry to rent a boardinghouse in nearby Columbia. The business grew, and when they moved to Richmond, Texas, in 1881, she was able to buy a large hotel adjacent to the county courthouse. They lived in Richmond for eight years, with Carry as the family's breadwinner, but they were run out of town for supporting freedmen's voting rights.

Carry's life in the Great Plains began in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where David found work as pastor of the Christian Church in 1889. With no hotel to keep her busy, and with all five children grown and living elsewhere, Carry channeled her energies into prohibitionism. Kansas was a "dry" state, but liquor flowed freely and public officials refused to enforce the law. Carry founded a local chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1892 and spearheaded its successful campaign to close the saloons of Medicine Lodge. Her activism waned between 1894 and 1899, when she and David homesteaded in Oklahoma Territory, but it returned with a vengeance after they moved back to Medicine Lodge. In June 1900 she dreamed that God was commanding her to take violent action, so she abandoned the WCTU's ladylike tactics and launched the "hatchetation" crusade that made her famous.

Carry moved to Topeka in January 1901 and made it her base of operations until 1905, when she shifted her headquarters to Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, to fight for a "dry" Oklahoma statehood. In 1907 she moved to Washington DC, and in 1908 and 1909 took her crusade to Great Britain. She declared herself semiretired in 1909 and settled in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but she continued her efforts until paralyzed by a stroke in January 1911. She was hospitalized in Leavenworth, Kansas, where she died on June 9, 1911.

Carry Nation was on the move throughout her career and supported herself by lecturing on the Lyceum, Chautauqua, and Vaudeville circuits, speaking wherever she could find an audience. She also sold souvenir hatchets and copies of her autobiography. With her earnings, she built a home for drunkards' wives in Kansas City, launched a purity farm for boys in Oklahoma, and gave to many causes. She created disturbances wherever she went, was jailed more than thirty times, and endured several beatings at the hands of her opponents. Noteworthy for her support of African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, and for her promotion of women's suffrage, sex education, and public health, she is nevertheless mainly remembered for the things that she opposed–alcohol, tobacco, political corruption, and fraternal organizations.

Karen Kidd California State University, Fullerton

Nation, Carry A. Scrapbook and Diary. Topeka: Kansas State Historical Society.

Nation, Carry A. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka: F. M. Steves and Sons, 1909.

Previous: McGrath, Tom | Contents | Next: National Congress of American Indians

XML: egp.pd.036.xml