Women's Activism NYC

Carry Nation

1846 - 1911

By: Preston F | Date Added:

Carry Nation was a famous leader and activist before women could vote in America. She believed that drunkenness was the cause of many problems in society. Nation fought with fierce and witty words to make her case that people should not drink alcohol or use tobacco. She gained national attention when she started using violence. Though she was beaten and jailed many times for “smashing” saloons, Carry Nation remained opposed to drinking and smoking throughout her life. Her crusade against drinking contributed to the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment. In 1889 Nation’s husband became a preacher, and they moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Here she began a career of charity and religious work and became known as “Mother Nation.” She took a deep interest in helping unfortunate people, especially women and children, and became known for her generosity. Nation organized a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU had helped pass a Kansas law against selling alcohol. In Missouri, each county could decide to be wet or dry. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is a national voluntary organization founded in 1874 by women who were concerned about the problems alcohol was causing in their families and communities. Based on the writing of Xenophon, a Greek philosopher, the Union defined temperance as “moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.” The WCTU of Missouri was organized in 1882. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, WCTU’s chief goal, or mission, was to outlaw the selling of alcohol. The organization held marches and rallies in several states. Besides saloons, their targets were men’s clubs like the Odd Fellows, Elks, Eagles, Lions, Masons, and others. Women could not enter these private clubs to search for their husbands if they were missing. Members of the WCTU had been working for Prohibition, an amendment to the Constitution to make the sale of alcoholic beverages illegal, for many years before Nation became famous for smashing saloons with her hatchet. Nation also tried to help prisoners in the jail. She came to believe that alcohol had caused the troubles of the inmates. Illegal bars and men’s clubs in Kansas still served liquor. Nation and another member of the WCTU decided to get rid of the bars by standing outside them, praying loudly and singing hymns. Soon, the bars in Medicine Lodge were closed. In 1900 Nation believed that God told her to go to Kiowa, Kansas, and close the bars there. Rather than use hymns and prayer, however, Nation threw bricks. She continued her destructive tactics in Wichita, Kansas. In Topeka in 1901, someone handed her a hatchet. Nation was a strong, six-foot-tall woman, and when her method became violent, people noticed. The Kansas WCTU presented her with a gold medallion inscribed, “To the Bravest Woman in Kansas.” The crowds of followers grew, but her marriage fell apart. By November 1901, she was divorced. Again alone, Nation sold little pewter hatchets to raise money and took on speaking engagements. She was beaten and jailed many times. After one “smashing,” Nick Chiles, a black politician and bar owner, bailed her out of jail. He also published her first newspaper, The Smasher’s Mail. Nation’s method had three parts: First, she spoke on the streets or in a hall and gathered a crowd. It did not worry her if the men in the crowd laughed at her. Second, after Nation had some support from the people, she would speak to lawmakers like Governor William Stanley of Kansas as shown in this illustration. Nation asked him to enforce the laws of the state and explained that alcohol was ruining lives and families. Third, if Nation could not get help from the lawmakers, she brought her followers into a “joint,” and the women attacked it with rocks, bricks, and hatchets. Even though the laws of Kansas said that alcohol couldn’t be sold except for medical purposes, there were bars, or “joints,” all over the state. In the “joints,” men could drink without worrying about being discovered because women could not go inside. The Kansas City Star reported Nation telling the crowd, “Smash. Smash. Praise God, Women. Come on. Smash the Windows.” Nation was jailed several times for disturbing the peace and destroying private property. She said that she was trying to get police and sheriffs to do their jobs. After all, it was illegal to sell liquor in Kansas. As a woman, however, she had little power to make men do anything. The Hatchet was Nation’s second attempt at starting a regular magazine. It contained her writings, news from saloon fighters, and letters from supporters throughout the United States. Besides writing about the evils of liquor, Nation wrote articles suggesting that women should get the vote, articles that gave advice about rearing children, and articles about the joys of a happy home. In 1903 Carrie Nation officially changed her name to “Carry,” saying it meant “Carry A Nation for Prohibition.” When her autobiography was published, she made enough money to buy a house in Kansas City, Kansas, to shelter the wives and mothers of drunkards. Later, a lecture tour took her to Great Britain. Many people made fun of Carry Nation. A group of college students lured her to campus by pretending to support her, and used her visit to put her down. Instead of becoming angry, she suggested that women should have the power to change things through the democratic process of voting: “The loving moral influence of mothers must be put in the ballot box.” Carry Nation was a suffragist. During her lifetime, women were not allowed to vote. She believed strongly that if she could vote, she would not need to use violence to make her voice heard. Like the prohibitionists, suffragists held parades to gather support for their cause. A suffrage parade in Norborne, Missouri, featured a marching band and a group of future voters. Carry Nation’s work paved the way for two amendments to the United States Constitution. The Eighteenth Amendment, passed in 1919, prohibited the sale of alcohol, and the Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, allowed women to vote. In 1933 Prohibition ended with another constitutional amendment.

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