Monday 16 January 2012

Carry Nation's Hatchetations

Carry A. Nation was a six foot tall, 175 pound woman who carried a hatchet around with her, shattering saloon windows, breaking beer bottles and smashing liquor kegs all in the name of the temperance movement:  her violent protests became known as "hatchetations". 

Born in Kentucky and raised in Missouri, Carry A. Nation was the daughter of a mentally ill mother and a father who struggled with financial difficulties.  As an adult, she married an alcoholic named Dr. Gloyd, turning her against alcohol.  Within a few years, she divorced her imbibing spouse.  She joined a temperance movement, one of many which had started in the 1830's, whose members frowned on drinking liquor.  By the 1830's, the overconsumption of alcohol had become a growing concern in America.  According to author W.J. Rorabaugh in his book The Alcoholic Republic, annual alcohol consumption totalled 5 gallons which was 3 times the rate of the 1980's.

By the late 1800's the temperance movement was thriving.  The teetotalers, also suffragettes, were gaining political clout.  However, the movement's progress was not fast enough for Carry.  She decided to take matters into her own hands; she would make America dry, one town at a time.

Living in Kansas by this time, Carry chose the town of Kiowa as her first target.  She located one of the town's saloons, pelting its windows with rocks and smashing its beer kegs with hammers.  After destroying two more drinking establishments in town, the area was hit by a tornado which she saw as divine providence.  Around 1900, her second husband, Mr. Nation, jokingly suggested that she use a hatchet for her attacks instead and her response was:  "That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you."

She struck fear in the hearts of many people including prize fighter John L. Sullivan, who reportedly hid when she burst into his New York City saloon.  Between 1900 and 1910, the hatchet-wielding woman was arrested 30 times for her saloon invasions; she was also assaulted many times in these bars.  Faced with numerous legal fees, Mrs. Nation went on a lecture tour throughout the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, earning enough money to pay off her debts. 

Although Carry A. Nation died in 1911, her cause continued.  On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution became law, prohibiting Americans from consuming liquor.

Photo courtesy

1 comment:

  1. Linda, my grandmother and her sisters (all teachers in Ontario) were quite active in the temperance movement, I recall. Thanks for this interesting historical nugget!