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Activist Carry Nation Used a Hatchet to Smash Booze Bottles Before Prohibition

December 10, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Nation had a bad history with alcohol—and she went to extremes to try and get it banned.

Carry Nation, here with her bible and hatchet, was a member of the temperance movement.

When Carry Nation stepped foot into the Kiowa, Kansas bar, nobody saw what was coming. The formidable woman, dressed in black, was on a mission from God. But as soon as she entered the saloon, all hell broke loose.

“I ran behind the bar, smashed the mirror and all the bottles under it; picked up the cash register, threw it down; then broke the faucets of the refrigerator, opened the door and cut the rubber tubes that conducted the beer,” she, she extended her audience with written sermons and other anti-alcohol content, like poetry and her own autobiography. She used the proceeds to fund her crusade.

Prohibitionist Carry Nation.

Her work was watched—and ridiculed.

Her campaign wasn’t without its detractors. She was arrested more than 30 times. Though she wasn’t the first person to smash up a saloon in the name of temperance, the movement tried to distance itself from her. And her personal life was taken as fair game by those who mocked her mission. In 1901, she was parodied in Kansas Saloon Smashers, a short film that shows a group of black-clad women like Nation destroying a saloon. In 1901, after her husband divorced her, Why Mr. Nation Wants a Divorce portrayed Nation as a woman who had forgotten her proper gender role and abandoned her husband and humiliated her husband.

Carry Nation ignored her detractors, though, and kept pursuing the temperance cause. As the years passed, she became more and more famous. Bars began to hang signs that read “All nations welcome—Except Carrie.” Late in her life, Nation took her message to vaudeville theaters. In at least one case, she stormed the stage to smash a glass, supposedly containing liquor, that was held in an actress’s hand. She also starred in a 1903 vaudeville “playlet” that delighted audiences. “Mrs. Nation provided her own dialogue, wrecked the bar scene at every performance, passed through the audience selling miniature hatchets, and also talked back to the hecklers in the crowd,” writes vaudeville historian Anthony Slide.

Nation nearly died doing what she loved—lecturing against the evils of drink. In 1911, she collapsed during a speech. She died …read more


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