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Bonnet, Book, And Hatchet
Weapon in hand and Biblical imprecations on her lips, Carry Nation campaigned to save men from the drunkard’s fate
December 1957 | Volume 9, Issue 1
In that day a character of the celebrity of Carry Nation was headed surely for the lyceum circuit. Billed variously, according to neighborhood, as The Home Defender, The Smasher, The Wrecker of Saloons, The Woman with the Hatchet, she toured much of the United States. She began publication of a weekly paper, The Hatchet . She went to Washington for the express purpose of talking to—not with—President Theodore Roosevelt, to warn him of the hideous example his daughter Alice was setting for pure womanhood by smoking cigarettes.
The White House guard was polite but firm; he met Mrs. Nation before she got to the door to inform her it was not possible to see the President. When she began a harangue about cigarette fiends, the guard broke in.
“Madam,” he said, “do not make a lecture here.” Mrs. Nation sighed and left with a well-turned phrase: “I suppose you have the same motto here in the White House that they have in the saloons, ‘All the Nations Welcome Except Carry.’ ” She went away to tell a newspaper reporter that Roosevelt’s predecessor, President McKinley, might have recovered from the wounds of his assassin “had not his blood been poisoned by nicotine,” and left such dark inference as the reporter cared to form in regard to what might well happen to the Roosevelts.
Though a few individual members of the W.C.T.U. considered Carry Nation a true hero-martyr in the John Brown tradition, she was treated coolly, then with increasing hostility by virtually all of the Union. The excitement she created gradually died in the United States. She went abroad to lecture in the British Isles, where she appeared in the music halls and was greeted by large audiences and often with showers of eggs and vegetables. Finding on return that she was in great danger of being wholly forgotten, she attacked the barroom in Washington’s Union Depot, late in 1909, and wrought fearful havoc with three hatchets she told the police were Faith, Hope, and Charity. In the following January she made her last attack. It was, properly enough, in Butte, Montana, then, as now, a lively town, and it was directed at May Maloy’s Dance Hall & Café. For the sake of the record, it was on January 26, 1910, when Carry Nation entered Miss Maloy’s place with the avowed intention to destroy a painting, and was met at the entrance by the proprietor herself, a young and powerful woman, who went hammer-and-tongs at the astonished crusader. The encounter was brief, terrible, and one-sided. The old champ went down, and went away to Arkansas. On January 13, 1911, she was stricken while speaking against joints and jointists at Eureka Springs and died on June 9 in Evergreen Hospital, Leavenworth, Kansas.
In Mrs. Nation’s day almost nobody had a good word for saloons. The brewers and distillers were inclined to let the saloonkeeper fight his own battles, smugly confident that more genteel vendors of their wares would take his place. Though the Anti-Saloon League ignored Carry Nation, her furious onslaught focused publicity on the liquor outlets, and she also forced Kansas and other pseudo-dry states—as one commentator put it—to “live up to their pretensions.” He thought that “a whole host of temperance workers were unequal to her influence.”
Carry Nation was a unique character in many ways, including the fact that she is best remembered by the symbol she made her own, much as an earlier American female, Miss Liz/ie Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, is remembered for a slightly larger symbol, which was the ax.