Study Guide

Carry Nation in 18th and 21st Amendments

Carry Nation

Perhaps the most beloved figure to ever swing a hatchet at something other than a tree, Nation was the scowling face of temperance at the turn of the 20th century. Her family was haunted by the specter of mental illness, with her mother believing she was the lady in waiting to the Queen of England (and later the Queen herself), and her daughter needing to be committed (source).

Whether or not Carry herself was mentally ill...well, we're not going to go up against someone six feet tall, 175 pounds, and known for swinging a hatchet. That's what Nation's most famous for: her "hatchetations," where she would descend on saloons with a hatchet and hack anything apart she could. She threw some prayer in there, because hey, why not.

She got involved with temperance in 1890 when her home state of Kansas loosened its prohibition laws. She wasn't having that for a second, and she quickly gained fame—or notoriety, depending on what you thought of her. She cut an impressive figure, and as a strong, physical woman not afraid of danger, had a following as something of an early feminist icon.

In 1901, Nation went to Topeka to take her hatchet to some illegal saloons. After receiving a beating at the hands (well, broom) of the wife of a saloon owner, she went to the governor to try to get him to enforce the laws of the state. He dismissed her with the witheringly sexist quote, "You are a woman, but a woman must know a woman's place. They can't come in here and raise this kind of disturbance" (source).

Yeah, he really said this to a fifty-five-year-old woman sporting a black eye. Who was also armed with a hatchet. Governor Stanley wasn't great at being a nice person, nor did he have the best survival instincts. Carry, though, didn't brain him with her hatchet.

Nation wouldn't live to see Prohibition become the law of the land, and her epitaph, "she hath done what she could," reflects that bit of melancholy. In her lifetime, Carry was able to bring a sense of theatricality to the struggle and she might have advanced the cause a great deal.

Just don't ask her to bury the hatchet.