Carrie Amelia Nation (November 25, 1846 - June 9, 1911) was perhaps the most famous person to emerge from the temperance movement—the battles against alcohol in pre-Prohibition America—due to her habit of attacking saloons with a hatchet. She has been the topic of numerous books, articles and even an opera, titled Carry Nation, that premiered in 1966 at the University of Kansas.
Born Carrie Moore in Garrard County, Kentucky, Nation attributed her passion for fighting liquor to a failed first marriage to an alcoholic. She got her myth-making last name from her second husband, David Nation. The spelling of her first name is ambiguous; both "Carrie" and "Carry" are considered correct. Official records list the former, and she herself used that spelling most of her life; the latter was used by her father in the family bible. Upon beginning her campaign against liquor in the early 20th century, she adopted the name Carry A. Nation mainly for its value as a slogan, and had it registered as a trademark in the state of Kansas.
She grew up in what most would consider trying circumstances. She was in ill health much of the time; her family experienced a number of financial setbacks and moved several times, finally settling in Belton, Missouri. Some sources indicate that her mother went through periods where she had delusions of being Queen Victoria, and that young Carrie was often tended to in the slave quarters as a result.
In 1865 she met Dr. Charles Gloyd, and they were married on November 21, 1867. Gloyd was, by all accounts, a severe alcoholic; they separated shortly before the birth of their daughter, Charlien, and he died less than a year later, in 1869. Nation attributed her passion for fighting liquor to her failed first marriage to heavy-drinking Gloyd.
Carrie then acquired a teaching certificate, but was unable to make ends meet in this field. She then met Dr. David A. Nation, an attorney, minister and newspaper editor, nineteen years her senior. They were married on December 27, 1877, and moved to a cotton plantation near Houston, Texas. Dr. Nation became involved in the Jaybird-Woodpecker War, and as a result was forced to move back north in 1889, this time to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where David found work preaching at a Christian church, and Carrie ran a successful hotel. It was while in Medicine Lodge that she began her temperance work.
A large woman (nearly 6 feet tall and 175 pounds) she described herself as "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn't like," and claimed a divine ordination to promote temperance by smashing up bars. Alone or accompanied by hymn-singing women, she would march into a bar and sing and pray, while smashing bar fixtures and stock with a hatchet. Between 1900 and 1910 she was arrested some 30 times, and paid her jail fines from lecture-tour fees and sales of souvenir hatchets. She published newsletters and later in life even appeared in vaudeville. She died after a period of hospitalization in Leavenworth, Kansas, on June 9, 1911. Nation was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1874, which deal with issues ranging from health and hygiene, prison reform and world peace.