The debate over alcohol and drug use has circulated across the nation for generations. Carrie Nation, the small woman armed with a hatchet and occasional Texas resident, became a nightmare for bar patrons across the country.
She was born Carrie Amelia Moore in Central Kentucky in 1846. Her father was a successful planter. However, her mother had a mental illness which caused great distress for the family. There were no treatments available then, and she was eventually institutionalized. The family, often embarrassed, moved often, eventually coming to Missouri. These moves increasingly eroded the family’s finances. When the Civil War erupted, the family moved to Grayson County and its perceived safety far from the fighting but had to return to Missouri by 1862 because of finances.
In 1867, she married a physician, Dr. Charles Gloyd. Her family, however, objected to him because Gloyd was clearly an alcoholic. But it was a stormy relationship, as his drinking steadily destroyed the marriage. Within months, the two separated. The couple had a daughter shortly afterward, and Gloyd drank himself to death in 1869.
Now a widow and single mother because of alcohol, she went to college and earned a teaching certificate by 1872. She taught school for several years. In 1874, she met David Nation, a preacher, lawyer, and writer. The two married and moved to Brazoria County, near Houston, in 1877. The couple soon opened a hotel in nearby Richmond, and her husband briefly wrote for the Houston Post. In 1889, the family moved to Kansas, where the two operated a hotel while David Nation also worked as a preacher.
Carrie Nation’s rage against alcohol only grew. She soon opened a local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, then the nation’s largest anti-alcohol group, and began protests outside saloons.
Alcoholism caused serious problems in families across the nation and in businesses with absenteeism, mistakes in accounting, and accidents on the job. Alcohol also caused serious health problems or caused marriages to collapse as well as foment domestic violence. Carrie Nation’s answer to this was to remove the temptation entirely. By 1900, she began to destroy the source by hurling rocks inside saloons. She was arrested, and the arrests only encouraged her further. She began using hatchets to tear apart bars and destroy bottles. In 1901, she opened a home in Kansas City for women and children fleeing from the violence of alcoholic husbands, which served as one of the country’s earliest battered women’s shelter.
Ultimately, she was arrested 35 times for her attacks on saloons. The fines were usually modest, but she paid for them through donations. She had a large following of women who saw the violent personality changes associated with alcohol abuse and who saw men drink away their careers, marriages, and even lives. Groups of praying women often accompanied her on what she called her “hatchetations.” They wanted the trail of destruction stopped as well. She enjoyed the attention and started a Prohibitionist newspaper, The Hatchet, and made money giving lectures and selling souvenir hatchets. In the meantime, her daughter began having mental problems and was briefly committed to a hospital in Texas before Nation brought her to Arkansas.
In 1906, Nation and her daughter moved to Northwest Arkansas. Here, she opened a school and “Hatchet Hall,” a boarding house where she offered Bible studies and continued her crusade against alcohol. She continued to travel, but her worsening health limited her energies. By January 1911, she gave her last public address. “I have done all I could,” she declared and collapsed into a coma, dying at a hospital in Kansas in June.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.