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Muckrakers & Reformers

Muckrakers & Reformers

Carry A. Nation in Muckrakers & Reformers

Carry A. Nation (1846-1911) was a deeply religious temperance activist in Kansas. Nation secured a place for herself in the history books when she traded her seemingly ineffective Women's Christian Temperance Union membership for direct and sometimes violent action against drinking establishments. At 6 feet tall and 175 pounds, she soon became legendary as an axe-wielding crusader bent on destroying saloons across the country. Her name was a direct reference to her goal: to carry the nation towards a dry (and, she was convinced, moral) future.

Nation, who was briefly married to an alcoholic in the 1860s, joined up with a growing movement of primarily female temperance activists who were enraged by the state's uneven enforcement of an 1881 "dry" law. Nation had a dream in June 1900 in which a voice appeared to her and said "Take something in your hands, and throw at these places in Kiowa and smash them." Arming herself with rocks, brickbats, axes, and a fervent faith in the righteousness of her cause, Nation led her followers on a succession of saloon attacks between 1900 and 1910, chanting "Smash, ladies, smash!"1 Though she was arrested 30 times, she felt emboldened by her religiosity, describing herself as "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn't like."3 Supporting herself and raising money through lecturing, Nation was sometimes received well, but at New York's famous Coney Island, she was treated "in effect, as a side show."4 Nonetheless, her popularity helped to bring about a favorable climate for passage of a nationwide prohibition policy in 1919.

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