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Wild Women of the West: Carrie Nation

Carrie Nation proved the power women had and helped support the idea that those women should have the right to vote.

June 18, 2019

The barroom at the Hotel Carey in Wichita, Kansas, was extremely busy most nights.  Cowhands and trail riders arrived by following the smell of whiskey and the sound of an inexperienced musician playing an out of tune piano inside the saloon.  Beyond the swinging doors awaited a host of well-used, female companions and an assortment of alcohol to help drown away the stresses of life on the rugged plains.  Patrons were too busy drinking, playing cards, and flirting with soiled doves to notice the stout, six-foot-tall woman enter the saloon. She wore a long, black alpaca dress and bonnet and carried a Bible.  Almost as if she were offended by the obvious snub, the matronly newcomer loudly announced her presence. As it was December 23, 1900, she shouted, “Glory to God! Peace on earth and good will to men!”

At the end of her proclamation, she hurled a massive brick at the expensive mirror hanging behind the bar and shattered the center of it.  As the stunned bartender and customers looked on, she pulled an iron rod from under her full skirt and began tearing the place apart.

The sheriff was quickly summoned, and soon the violent woman was being escorted out of the business and marched to the local jail.  As the door on her cell was slammed shut and locked, she shouted out to the men, “You put me in here a cub, but I will go out a roaring lion and make all hell howl.”

Carrie Nation’s tirade echoed throughout the Wild West.  For decades the lives of women from Kansas to California had been adversely affected by the abuse of alcohol by their husbands, fathers, and brothers.  Carrie was one of the first to take such a public, albeit violent, stance against the problem. The Bible-thumping, brick-and-bat-wielding Nation was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.  The radical organization, founded in 1874, encouraged wives and mothers distressed over the effects of alcohol to join in the crusade against liquor and the sellers of the vile drink.

In 1877, Carrie became a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union which protested drinking and fought for the enforcement of state liquor laws which forbade the sale or manufacturing of alcohol.  The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was concerned about the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing families and societies.

The methods employed by the WCTU were generally non-violent.  They would gather outside bars and sing hymns. The tactic was often successful, and many bars closed as a result.  Carrie Nation had a terrific grudge against alcohol and those who sold it and could not be persuaded to protest in a civil manner.  She had married two men who would not give up the bottle.

Carrie had been born Carrie Amelia Moore on November 26, 1846, in Garrard County, Kentucky.  Her father was an itinerant minister who moved his wife and children from Kentucky to Texas, then on to Missouri and back again to Kentucky.

Although women were disenfranchised at the time, WCTU’s organization and infrastructure were essential to early Prohibition Party success.  The WCTU and Carrie Nation proved the power women had and helped support the idea that those women should have the right to vote.

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