Profile of Prohibitionist Carrie Nation

Hatchet-Wielding Saloon Smasher

Carrie Nation, with axe and Bible
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Biographical Facts

Known for: hatchet-wielding smashing of saloons to promote prohibition (of liquor)
Occupation: prohibition activist; hotel proprietor, farmer
Dates: November 25, 1846 – June 2, 1911
Also known as: Carry Nation, Carry A. Nation, Carrie Gloyd, Carrie Amelia Moore Nation

Carrie Nation Biography

Carrie Nation, known for her saloon-smashing in the early 20th century, was born in Garrard County, Kentucky. Her mother was a Campbell, with Scottish roots. She was related to Alexander Campbell, a religious leader. Her father was an Irish planter and stock dealer. He was uneducated, which accounts for his writing her name as "Carry" instead of "Carrie" in the family Bible. She usually used the variation Carrie, but in her years as an activist and in the public eye, used Carry A. Nation as both a name and a slogan.

Carrie's father ran a plantation in Kentucky, and the family enslaved people. Carrie was the eldest of four girls and two boys. Carrie's mother believed that children should spend time with those enslaved by the family, so young Carrie had significant exposure to the lives and beliefs of those enslaved, including, as she later reported, their animistic beliefs. The family was part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Carrie had a dramatic conversion experience at age ten at a meeting.

Carrie's mother raised six children, but she often had delusions that she was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, and later came to believe that she was the queen. The family catered to her delusions, but Mary Moore was eventually committed to the Missouri Hospital for the Insane. Her mother and two siblings were also found to be insane. Mary Moore died in the state hospital in 1893.

The Moores moved around, and Carrie lived in Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas. In 1862, broke from a failed Texas business venture, George Moore moved the family to Belton, Missouri, where he worked in real estate.

First Marriage

Carrie met Charles Gloyd when he was a boarder in the family's home in Missouri. Gloyd was a Union veteran, originally from Ohio, and was a doctor. Her parents apparently also knew that he had trouble with drinking, and tried to prevent the marriage. But Carrie, who said later that she did not realize his drinking problem at the time, married him anyway, on November 21, 1867. They moved to Holden, Missouri. Carrie was soon pregnant, and also realized the extent of her husband's drinking problem. Her parents forced her to return to their home, and Carrie's daughter Charlien was born on September 27, 1868. Charlien had multiple serious physical and mental disabilities, which Carrie blamed on her husband's drinking.

Charles Gloyd died in 1869, and Carrie went back to Holden to live with her mother-in-law and daughter, building a small home with funds from her husband's estate and some money from her father. In 1872, she got a teaching certificate from Normal Institute in Warrensberg, Missouri. She began teaching at a primary school to support her family, but soon left teaching after a conflict with a member of the school board.

Second Marriage

In 1877, Carrie married David Nation, a minister, lawyer, and newspaper editor. Carrie, by this marriage, gained a stepdaughter. Carrie Nation and her new husband fought often from the beginning of the marriage, and it does not seem to have been happy for either of them.

David Nation moved the family, including "Mother Gloyd," to a Texas cotton plantation. That venture failed quickly. David went into law and moved to Brazonia. He also wrote for a newspaper. Carrie opened a hotel in Columbia, which became successful. Carrie Nation, Charlien Gloyd, Lola Nation (David's daughter), and Mother Gloyd lived at the hotel.

David became embroiled in a political conflict, and his life was threatened. He moved the family to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, in 1889, taking up a part-time ministry at a Christian church there. He soon resigned and returned to the practice of law. David Nation was also an active Mason and his time spent at the Lodge rather than at home contributed to Carrie Nation's long opposition to such fraternal orders.

Carrie became active in a Christian church, but she was expelled and joined the Baptists. From there, she developed her own sense of religious belief.

Kansas had been a dry state, legally, since the state passed a constitutional amendment establishing prohibition in 1880. In 1890, a U.S. Supreme Court decision found that states could not interfere in interstate commerce with liquor imported across state lines, as long as it was sold in its original container. "Joints" sold bottles of liquor under this ruling, and other liquor was also widely available.

In 1893, Carrie Nation helped form a chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in her county. She first worked as the "jail evangelist," assuming that most who had been arrested were there for crimes associated with drunkenness. She adopted a kind of uniform in black and white, resembling closely the garb of a Methodist deaconess.


In 1899, Carrie Nation, inspired by what she believed was divine revelation, entered a saloon in Medicine Lodge and began singing a temperance hymn. A supportive crowd gathered, and the saloon was shut down. Whether she had success with other saloons in town or not is disputed by different sources.

The following year, in May, Carrie Nation took bricks with her to a saloon. With a group of women, she entered the saloon, and began to sing and pray. Then she took the bricks and smashed bottles, furniture, and any pictures they deemed pornographic. This was repeated at other saloons. Her husband suggested that a hatchet would be more effective; she adopted that instead of bricks in her saloon-smashing, calling these smashings "hatchetations." The saloons that sold liquor were sometimes called "joints" and those who supported the "joints" were called "jointists."

In December of 1900, Carrie Nation vandalized the luxury Hotel Carey's barroom in Wichita. On December 27, she started a jail term of two months for destroying a mirror and a nude painting there. With her husband David, Carrie Nation saw the state's governor and condemned him for not enforcing prohibition laws. She vandalized the state Senate saloon. In February 1901, she was jailed in Topeka for wrecking a saloon. In April 1901, she was jailed in Kansas City. That year, journalist Dorothy Dix was assigned to follow Carrie Nation for Hearst's Journal to write about her joint-smashing in Nebraska. She refused to return home with her husband, and he divorced her in 1901 on grounds of desertion.

The Lecture Circuit: Commercializing Prohibition

Carrie Nation was arrested at least 30 times, in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas, usually on charges such as "disturbing the peace." She turned to the lecture circuit to support herself with fees from speaking. She began also to sell miniature plastic hatchets inscribed with "Carry Nation, Joint Smasher," and pictures of herself, some with the slogan "Carry A. Nation." In July of 1901, she began touring the eastern U.S. states. In 1903 in New York she appeared in a production called "Hatchetations" which included a scene where the smashing of a saloon was reenacted. When President McKinley was assassinated in September 1901, Carrie Nation expressed joy, as she believed him to be a drinker.

On her travels, she also took more direct action—not smashing saloons, but in Kansas, California, and the United States Senate, she disrupted the chambers with her shouts. She also tried founding several magazines.

In 1903, she began supporting a home for the wives and mothers of drunkards. This support lasted until 1910, after which there were no more residents to support.

In 1905, Carrie Nation published her life story as The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation by Carry A. Nation, also to help support herself and her family. That same year, Carrie Nation had her daughter Charlien committed to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, then moved with her to Austin, then Oklahoma, then Host Springs, Arkansas.

In another tour of the east, Carrie Nation denounced several Ivy League colleges as sinful places. In 1908, she visited the British Isles to lecture, including Scotland of her mother's heritage. When she was hit by an egg during one lecture there, she canceled the rest of her appearances and returned to the United States. In 1909, she lived in Washington, D.C., and then in Arkansas, where she founded a home known as Hatchet Hall on a farm in the Ozarks.

Last Years of Carrie Nation

In January of 1910, a woman saloon owner in Montana beat up Carrie Nation, and she was hurt badly. The next year, January 1911, Carrie collapsed on stage when speaking back in Arkansas. As she lost consciousness she said, using the epitaph she had asked for in her autobiography, "I have done what I could." She was sent to Evergreen Hospital at Leavenworth, Kansas, dying there on June 2, 1911. She was buried in Belton, Missouri, in her family's plot. The women of the WCTU had a headstone made, inscribed with the words, "Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could" and the name Carry A. Nation.

The cause of death was given as paresis; some historians have suggested she had congenital syphilis.

Well before her death, Carrie Nation—or Carry A. Nation as she preferred to be called in her career as a joint-smasher—had become more an object of ridicule than an effective campaigner for temperance or prohibition. The image of her in her severe uniform, carrying a hatchet, was used to belittle both the cause of temperance and the cause of women's rights.

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Mary Campbell Moore
  • Father: George Moore
  • Siblings: three younger sisters and two younger brothers

Marriage, Children:

  • Charles Gloyd (doctor; married November 21, 1867, died 1869) daughter: Charlien, born September 27, 1868
  • David Nation (minister, attorney, editor; married 1877, divorced 1901) stepdaughter: Lola
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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Profile of Prohibitionist Carrie Nation." ThoughtCo, Sep. 13, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, September 13). Profile of Prohibitionist Carrie Nation. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Profile of Prohibitionist Carrie Nation." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).