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Carrie Nation: Kansas Crusader

Kansas - It's dear to the heart of Virginia Allain. She grew up there & loves the big skies, the prairies, the small towns, & history.

The Temperance Union's Slogan - anti-alcohol slogan

Leader of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in the 1800s

Growing up in Kansas, we studied Kansas history and the biographies of noted Kansans. The ones that remain vivid in my mind include Amelia Earhart, William Allen White, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Wild Bill Hickox and Carrie Nation.

Carrie Nation especially captured my imagination since she was an outspoken reformer for change in an era when women had few rights and were not part of politics or public life. I'll share with you here some of the reasons Carrie Nation became a national figure and why she was important.

Personally I'm not against alcohol and enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner. What I admired most about Carrie Nation was not necessarily her cause, but her energy and drive to change the system.

Her name was sometimes listed as Carry A. Nation in old flyers (a play on words).

This is the arm of God. I have come to save you men from a drunkard's hell.

— Carry Nation as she attacked the saloon in Wichita, Kansas

Memorabilia Featuring Carrie Nation

The visual of Carrie Nation with a Bible in one hand and a hatchet in the other was a great PR move. It sure sticks in your mind. The activist became famous for smashing up whiskey barrels and terrorizing saloons. Later the Women's Christian Temperance Movement sold miniature hatchet souvenirs to bail her out of jail.

A Biography of Carrie A. Nation - available from Amazon

It's interesting to note that Carrie Nation's first husband died of alcoholism. Her second husband was a minister.

In the 1800s there was little that women could do and no agencies to turn to if their husband drank all the earnings and beat his wife. This social issue became the cause that drove Carrie Nation and the Women's ChristianTemperance Union.

The state of Kansas passed a prohibition law, but it was widely disregarded. That's when Carrie Nation began her personal attacks on illegal bars by smashing their whiskey barrels.

This kind of vigilante activity raises a number of concerns and personally I prefer the passive resistance methods of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Still I admire the fervor that Carrie Nation brings to her cause. It's too bad that she did not find other methods to bring attention to the problem and get the system to change.

Carrie Nation's Home in Kansas


Some Kansas Locations Relating to Carry Nation

She shut down the saloon here - Medicine Lodge KS

She died here 1911 - Leavenworth KS

Site of a saloon attack - Wichita KS

Her first saloon attack - Kiowa KS

She met with the governor - Topeka KS

Scroll to Continue

Another saloon attack - Enterprise KS

Another saloon attack - Winfield KS

Her Actions Inspired Other Women to Smash Saloons

The Chicago Tribune reported in 1901 that on January 30th in Anthony, Kansas, "The Carrie Nation crusade reached Anthony ... when fourteen women, all belonging to the best families of this city, led by a Mrs. Sheriff of Danville, Kansas., armed with axes, hatchets, and clubs, visited four saloons, smashed the windows. mirrors, bars, and fixtures, and emptied all the liquor they could find into the streets."

The article said the women were accompanied by their husbands who made sure no one interfered with the activities. A large crowd gathered and followed the women to see the destruction of the last two saloons. Afterwards, the women held a prayer meeting in the street in front of one saloon.

In Montgomery County, Kansas, the county attorney closed all the saloons on January 30th and told the owners they could not operate anymore.

More Kansans Join the Movement to Close Saloons

Carrie Nation Spirit Revived

The Carrie Nation spirit took a spurt at Admire in Lyon county. Most of the prominent citizens gathered and raided all the places where they suspected there was liquor. One joint had just received a shipment. This was spilled in the streets. The mob used hatchets, hammers, axes, clubs and all available weapons. One jointist of the town whose trial was set, left while under bond and has not been heard from. The people had a country band and paraded the streets, swinging their weapons and rejoicing. They say that it is their intention to keep all joints and liquor stores out of Admire.


The Burlingame Enterprise
Burlingame, Kansas
03 Oct 1901, Thu • Page 3

Spotlight on the WCTU - Women's Christian Temperance Union

Newspaper Clipping About This Remarkable Woman

The Bremen Enquirer  (Bremen, Indiana) 05 Jan 1939, Thu  • Page 7 - An article about Carry Nation by Dale Carnegie.

The Bremen Enquirer (Bremen, Indiana) 05 Jan 1939, Thu • Page 7 - An article about Carry Nation by Dale Carnegie.

A Tribute to Carry Nation by Dale Carnegie (transcription of the article above)


On January 21, 1901, one of the most sensational women in American history walked down the streets of Wichita, Kansas, singing "Onward Christian Soldiers." She had a hatchet in her hand and when she reached Jim Burn's saloon on Douglas Avenue, she rushed in through the swinging doors, waved her hatchet in the air and shouted: "This is the arm of God. I have come to save you men from a drunkard's hell."

The customers fled out of the side door.

The bartender ducked behind a table, while Carry Nation threw beer bottles at the mirrors and smashed in the heads of whiskey barrels with her hatchet. In a few minutes, the place looked as if it had been struck by a Kansas cyclone.

And it had. It had been struck by a cyclone in petticoats.

Carry Nation, the Joan of Arc of prohibition, was on the warpath and telegraph wires and cables flashed the news all over the world.

By her fiery and spectacular crusades, she helped arouse the indignation that made national prohibition possible seventeen years later.

Carry Nation had good and sufficient reasons for despising the saloon. Whiskey had broken up her home. Her husband had died a drunkard's death, leaving her penniless, with a baby to support.

When she was dragged into court, she insisted on acting as her own attorney and when the judge quoted the laws of Kansas she cried: "We are going to try it according to the laws of Ecclesiastes." And then she would stand up and begin reading her Bible.

When the judge told her to sit down, she snapped back at him, "Don't you tell me to sit down. I'm old enough to be your mother."

Four years after her first husband died, she married David Nation, a newspaper editor, farmer, and preacher. She thought their marriage was an answer to prayer. David Nation finally became pastor of a church in Holton, Kansas.

But Carry felt she knew more about preaching than her husband did; so she chose his texts for him and often wrote his sermons. While David stood in the pulpit trying to inspire his little flock, Carry sat in the front row and told him in audible tones when to raise and lower his voice, when to speed it up and where to gesture.

When she thought he had preached long enough, she would step out into the aisle and say in a loud voice: "That will be all for today, David." If he didn't stop preaching immediately, she marched right up to the pulpit, banged the Bible shut under his nose, handed him his hat and told him to go home.

After a few months of this, the Church Board asked their pastor to resign and he did so with pleasure. Years later, when he sued her for divorce, she said, "David was too slow for me."

I feel especially at home on the subject of Carry Nation. Although she was born half a century before I was, I lived in the same town where she and part of the Jesse James gang had grown up. For a while, I attended the same college that she had attended; and she is buried now in my home town of Belton, Missouri.

I once saw her in action in a church in Pierre, South Dakota. The preacher said something that morning that she didn't like; and she spoke right up in church, then and there, and told him what she thought.

On another occasion, I saw her walk up to a man in a crowd, knock a cigar out of his mouth and tell him that he ought to be ashamed of himself, for tobacco made him smell like a dog.

When she came to New York, she caused an uproar by going to the swanky horse show in Madison Square Garden and publicly denouncing Mrs. Alfred Vanderbilt for wearing evening clothes.

Was Carry Nation crazy? Well, her daughter had to be shut up in an insane asylum; and Carry may not have been entirely sane herself. But who is?

She did many beautiful things. For example, her father died, leaving a lot of debts; and fifteen years later, she paid those debts. She didn't have to, and no one expected her to, but she did.

When Carry Nation first began breathing fire on the plains of Kansas, the anti-saloon movement was a weak, impotent affair. But Carry Nation transformed it into a militant giant that eventually put the 18th amendment into the Constitution. The State of Kansas has named one of its highways in her honor. It is called "The Carry Nation Trail," and the signs on it are hatchets.

A Report at the Time of Her Death in 1911

Mrs. Nation's work as a saloon smasher began in Wichita on December 27, 1900. when she broke the mirror in the Carey Hotel bar the finest saloon mirror in the Arkansas Valley, it was said, and she did not stop with the mirror. When she concluded operations the place was a complete wreck. A hatchet was used to prosecute the work of demolition and this handy tool followed her as an emblem throughout the remainder of her life. Her career from this on was one of smashing, she served time in jails in this country and abroad, having been put behind the bars, charged with smashing saloon bars, no less than twenty-two times.


Council Grove Republican
Council Grove, Kansas
15 Jun 1911, Thu • Page 1

Even Today, Carry Nation Captures the Curiosity of Many

Beldon, Missouri - For the life of him Weldon Jackson can’t quite figure out why people are so curious about Cany Nation the ax-wielding turn-of-the-century crusader against demon rum. Visitors to the Belton Museum show more interest in exhibits about the life of Nation who is buried in the town cemetery than others featuring native son Dale Carnegie and President Harry Truman, he said.

“Strangers ask about Carry Nation 3 to 1 over Dale Carnegie” said Jackson, president of the Belton Historical Society “It’s kind of hard to understand because Carry wasn’t even born here and Dale Carnegie was. Truman farmed in the area before he entered politics and came to Belton to do his business and joined the Masonic Lodge here” For a decade preceding Prohibition, Nation, the original Mother Against Drunk Driving railed against the evils of alcohol and tobacco with a Bible in one hand and her trademark ax in the other....


The Parsons Sun
Parsons, Kansas
24 Oct 1990, Wed • Page 17

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Virginia Allain

Had You Heard of Carrie Nation Before?

Joan Hall from Los Angeles on November 17, 2010:

Fascinating! I had never understood how the disempowerment of women was a factor in the temperance movement. What interesting times those were.

Liz Mackay from United Kingdom on November 17, 2010:

What a formidable lady.

ohcaroline on March 07, 2010:

Great len! We should never forget the heroes of yesterday.

Robin S from USA on March 07, 2010:

Super tribute to an awesome lady!

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on March 06, 2010:

She seems like a strong woman. Nice lens.

happynutritionist on March 06, 2010:

Sounds and looks like a strong woman with a strong message...wouldn't you have just loved to have lived back then and seen someone like her for real...sat down and talked to her, I bet she was an interesting character. Enjoyed my visit! 5stars:-)

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