Remember the Ladies: Attack saloons with a hatchet

She was perhaps the most famous person to emerge from the temperance movement due to her habit of wearing dark clothes while attacking saloons with a hatchet. Her name was Carrie Nation.

Carrie Amelia Moore was born in November 1846 in Garrard County, Kentucky. She was raised mostly by her family’s slaves and not allowed to eat at the adult table until much older because her mother believed that being with the slaves was the best way to bring up children. The family lived in Kansas, Texas, and Arkansas before George Moore settled in Belton, Missouri.

Carrie married alcoholic doctor Charles Gloyd in November 1867 and moved to Holden but returned home due to his drinking where daughter Charlien was born in September 1868. Her disabilities were attributed to Charles’ drinking. After his death in 1869, Carrie began teaching after graduating from Normal Institute in Warrensberg in 1872 but soon left after a school board conflict.

In December 1874, Carrie married older widower David Nation. He moved the family to a Texas cotton plantation, but it failed quickly so he practiced law in Brazonia while Carrie ran a successful hotel in Columbia. In 1899, they moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where David became a minister but soon returned to law. Following the 1892 Land Run, the Nations settled near Seiling, Oklahoma Territory, but returned to Medicine Lodge in 1893.

Carrie’s civil disobedience began in 1899 when she entered a saloon in Medicine Lodge and began singing a temperance hymn. The owner threw her out, but within weeks, as a direct consequence of her tirades, four of the six saloons in town were closed. In 1900, Carrie believed God sent her to Kiowa, Kansas, to close the bars. Her protests soon turned violent as she threw bricks. Later that year she switched to a hatchet to damage Wichita’s luxurious Hotel Carey’s barroom. On Dec. 27, she went to jail for two months for vandalism.

In January 1901, a female figure dressed in black appeared in Topeka. For the next three weeks, Carrie and her followers smashed saloons. She was threatened by howling mobs, beaten by wives of saloon owners, and repeatedly arrested and jailed. Overall, Carrie was arrested 30 times. David divorced her in 1901 for desertion, so Carrie turned to doing lectures to support herself. She also sold miniature plastic hatchets, inscribed with “Carry Nation, Joint Smasher.”

In 1902, she returned to Oklahoma Territory to help it enter the nation as a dry state. After causing damage to a Guthrie saloon, the owner hung a sign “All Nations Welcome Except Carrie.” In 1903, she officially changed her name saying it meant “Carry A Nation for Prohibition.” In 1907, Oklahoma became the first state to enter the Union as a dry state.

In January 1910, a female Montana saloon owner beat up Carrie Nation badly. A year later, she collapsed on stage when speaking in Arkansas. As she lost consciousness, she said, “I have done what I could.” She was sent to the Evergreen Hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas, where she died in June 1911. She was buried in the family plot in Belton.

Carrie Nation’s work paved the way for two amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, prohibited the sale of alcohol, and the 21st Amendment, passed in 1933, ended prohibition.  

Dr. Edwyna Synar has been writing and speaking about Women's History for over 20 years. Her stories in this series can be found at

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