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Carrie Nation

Temperance activist Carrie Nation in 1910.

All dressed in black, a shadowy figure with hatchet in hand and her worn-out Bible beneath her breast. Carrie Nation proclaims herself the instrument of God!

“Rise up God-fearing Christian women,” she cries out on the streets of Wichita on a hot afternoon in eighteen ninety-five. “Down with the saloons and taverns. We must rid ourselves of the devil’s brew.”

Suffering from their husbands’ drunken folly, wounded women harken to the cause. They link up arm and arm together and sing with angry voices, “Onward Christian soldiers marching off to war!”

Meanwhile, the men are drinking and swearing inside a wild Kansas saloon. Piano is playing. In the back of the room, Maud Adam, a dance hall girl, flirts with a freckled-face kid trying to persuade him to buy her a glass of whiskey, which is, in reality, tea. She bats her thick black mascara eyelashes and smiles her painted red lips encouraging him to buy her a drink.

Then, after the first drink, she’d pretend that she enjoy his company and laugh at his dull remark for the next couple of hours getting him to buy her more drinks to make her necessary quota for her shift.

Up at the counter, Brady, the proprietor, serves up the ale and whiskey to the rowdy masses, unaware of an angry mob forming outside his business. A look of utter horror comes across the face of saloon keeper when they come marching in.

As crazed women led by the Temperance leader sing further, they begin to shake the planks of the saloon floor with their frenzied protests. Fleeing men ran out into the streets as a mob of outraged women began smashing gambling tables and chairs.

Unsuccessfully trying to make her escape, Maud comes face to face with many jealous wives, whom fear that she has been sleeping with their husbands. Seizing her by the arms and feet, they swing and release her up into the air, screaming.

Through the main big window, breaking the glass, she sails out into the crowded street and lands on top of a surprised Irish policeman with a handlebar mustache, knocking him down into the muddy street.

When Carrie Nation swings her hatchet, she shatters bottles full of alcoholic beverages against the wall.

By the time she finishes, the saloon is in complete shambles. Busted up bar stools. Shards of glass everywhere. Falling to his knees, the proprietor, Brady, is overwhelmed by the costly damages to his business and sobs like a small lost child looking for his mama. Leaving the saloon, Carrie Nation succeeds again at closing down the sale of alcohol.

Historical Note

In the 1890s, when prohibitions laws of Kansas weakened, Mrs. Carrie Nation joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement. This fundamental group believed in stopping the sale of alcohol through any means. Carrie blamed alcohol for the death of her first husband, and took up the cause to stop the sale of alcohol in the saloons. Saloon proprietors hung up a sign in their bar that said, “Every Nation is welcome here, except for Carrie.”

Carrie Nation was a tall and heavy-set woman, who dressed in black. She carried a Bible in one hand and a hatchet in the other. Marching into the saloon singing a hymn and praying, she smashed up fixtures and stock. She was often arrested and put in jail. Her supporters sold souvenir hatchets to raise money for bail and fines. Also, she gave lectures on the evil of alcohol to raise money for her cause.

On June 9, 1911, Carrie Nation passed away in Leavenworth, Kansas. Saloon owners assumed this would end the issue of destruction to their establishments and stopping the further sale of alcohol. However, Temperance activists petition Congress and the Senate for stronger laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol.

On New Year’s Day of 1920, the Volstead Act of 1919 was passed, prohibiting the sale and distribution of alcohol, as allowed by the 18th Amendment added to the U.S. Constitution. We know this period of history as Prohibition.

Bootlegging led to the rise of organized crime. Alcohol was distributed in speakeasies, where people met in secret and danced the Charleston. Young women, who bobbed their hair in this era, were known as flappers. They drank and smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes. The hems of their dresses and skirts were above the knees.

In 1933, Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment.

Carl G. White lives in Napa.