Nation, Carry Amelia Moore (1846–1911)

By: J. C. Martin

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: March 29, 2016

Carry Nation, prohibitionist, daughter of George and Mary (Campbell) Moore, was born on November 25, 1846, in Garrard County, Kentucky. There was a history of mental illness in her mother's family, and the child was often cared for in the slave quarters when Mrs. Moore's mental state left her incapable of managing the household. Carry was a semi-invalid for much of her childhood. She was raised in Kentucky and Missouri, while her father moved the family restlessly from county to county. From 1860 to 1862 the Moores lived in Grayson County, Texas, until drought forced them to abandon farming and return to Belton, Missouri. There on November 21, 1867, Carry married Dr. Charles Gloyd. They became the parents of a daughter, but Gloyd's alcoholism had destroyed the marriage even before the child's birth, and he died shortly after Carry's parents forced her to return home. She then enrolled in Warrensburg Normal Institute and, after receiving a teaching certificate, taught school in Holden, Missouri, for four years. In 1877 she married David Nation, a lawyer, newspaperman, and sometime minister in the Christian Church.

The Nations moved to Texas in 1879 and settled on a cotton plantation on the San Bernard River near Houston. After they failed to make the plantation a success, Carry supported the family by managing a hotel in Columbia. The eventual sale of the plantation enabled them to buy a hotel in Richmond, which Carry ran with sporadic assistance from her husband, who practiced law and corresponded for the Houston Post. As a child she had undergone a dramatic conversion at a revival meeting, and during her stay in Texas she had numerous mystic experiences. She came to believe that she had been elected by God and that she spoke through divine inspiration. After the Methodist and Episcopal churches barred her from teaching in their Sunday schools, she started her own weekly class in the hotel. David Nation also became involved in the Jaybird-Woodpecker War after he denounced the Jaybirds in an article for the Houston Post. To escape assaults and intimidation, the Nations moved in 1889 to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where David became pastor of the Christian Church.

In Kansas, as in Texas, Mrs. Nation was known for her charity to the poor. Having been a drunkard's wife herself, she was especially moved by drink-related poverty. But her fanatical views and eccentric behavior made her unpopular, and the abrasiveness of her exhortations to righteousness provoked the Christian Church to expel her from membership. In 1892 she joined the Baptist minister's wife in Medicine Lodge in organizing a local chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and was appointed jail evangelist. In the name of home protection she began a crusade against alcohol and tobacco that lasted the rest of her life. Claiming the justification that saloons were illegal in prohibitionist Kansas, she wrecked "joints" and berated persons who sold liquor. In 1900 she adopted the hatchet as her tool of destruction. The sale of souvenir hatchets and earnings from nationwide lecture tours allowed her to pay the fines that resulted from more than thirty arrests. She propagandized through several short-lived publishing efforts, including The Hatchet, The Home Defender, and The Smasher's Mail, and in 1904 she published her autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Although she was a national leader of the extremist element of the prohibitionist movement, she never had the unqualified support of the WCTU or of any other national organization.

David Nation, whom she reprimanded for his bland pulpit oratory, divorced her in 1901. In her later career Carry became more and more of a public performer, even appearing on the vaudeville circuit as the "Kansas Cyclone." On college campuses, including the University of Texas in 1902 and 1904, undergraduates enjoyed deluding her into believing that prominent members of the university community were dissolute drunkards. She undertook a last major lecture tour in 1908 in the British Isles and was poorly received. Declining physical and mental health forced her into semiretirement on a mountain farm in Boone County, Arkansas. In January 1911 she collapsed during a speech in Arkansas and was taken to a hospital in Leavenworth, Kansas, where she spent the remaining months of her life in mental confusion. She died there on June 2, 1911, and was buried in Belton, Missouri. See also PROHIBITION, PROGRESSIVE ERA.

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Dictionary of American Biography. Bobbie Love, "Carry Nation's Two Visits to the Forty Acres," Alcalde, February 1960. Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary (4 vols., Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971–80). Robert Lewis Taylor, Vessel of Wrath: The Life and Times of Carry Nation (New York: New American Library, 1966). Sam Woolford, "Carry Nation in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 63 (April 1960).

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March 29, 2016

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