Photo courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society

Carry Nation’s Drinking Problem

    SOUTH DAKOTA STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY - Deadwood was the wickedest city in America and Aberdeen had fewer righteous people in it than Sodom and Gomorrah.
    Such were the beliefs that South Dakota newspapers attributed to prohibition activist Carry Amelia Nation. Nation, 1846-1911, was already famous for her hatchet-wielding, saloon-smashing activities when she came to South Dakota, first presenting her lecture “For God and Country” in Madison on Jan. 1, 1910. She went on to speak at several other locations throughout the state that year.
    “Speaking forth a strong denunciation of the saloon, of republicans, tobacco users, democrats, members of the Masonic order and of all forms of vice, Mrs. Carrie Nation delivered an address Wednesday evening in the opera house before an audience of about two hundred,” stated an article attributed to the Huronite that appeared in the Jan. 6, 1910, Philip Weekly Review. “Mrs. Nation spoke mostly of her experience as a ‘saloon smasher’ and of the course and reasons which impelled her to follow such a course in attacking that institution. At no time during her discourse did she display any hesitancy in speaking out her opinion, and she spared neither ‘saint nor sinner’ from her onslaughts.”
    Nation’s efforts to get alcohol banned may have stemmed from quickly realizing after her marriage in 1867 to Charles Gloyd that he was an alcoholic.
    Gloyd died in 1869 and Carry married David Nation, a journalist, lawyer and preacher 19 years her senior in 1874. David Nation divorced her in 1901 on the grounds of desertion. After the Nations moved to Medicine Lodge, Kan., in 1889, Carry began her temperance work by organizing a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the most active group favoring the prohibition of alcohol.
    Nation wrote in her autobiography that she “told the Lord to use me any way to suppress the dreadful curse of liquor.” That “way” resulted in Nation going to Kiowa, Kan., in 1900, walking into saloons and smashing bottles of liquor, mirrors and other bar fixtures.
    She continued her destructive tactics, attracting attention to herself and her cause. A hatchet became her preferred instrument of destruction, and she came to call her bar smashings “hatchetations.”
    By the time Nation arrived in South Dakota, newspapers reported she had decided that the spoken word was mightier than the hatchet. She had given up smashing saloons in favor of lecture tours.
    To raise money, Nation sold copies of her autobiography, pictures of herself and miniature souvenir hatchets.
    While most newspaper accounts spelled Nation’s first name as “Carrie,” the spelling “Carry” was used by her father in the family Bible. Nation told an audience in Centerville that “her name was not an accident, but the divine plan of God pointing out her life work to ‘Carry A Nation’s’ burdens on her mind and heart, and use her talents for the world’s betterment.”
    Standing 6-feet tall, Nation must have presented a formidable presence when she lectured. The Lead Pioneer-Times described her as “Attired in a dress of dark material, and a little old-fashioned cap to match, with a touch of white lace at the throat in contrast … Her eyes flash fire from behind the steel-bowed spectacles as she gives an audience the benefit of her observations.”
    While at Lemmon, Nation was a guest at a wedding. Nation fastened a “hatchet” on the bride and groom when congratulating the couple, “accompanying the act with appropriate remarks, urging them to ‘carry a nation’ for righteousness,” reported the State-Line Herald.
    Nation was often greeted with large crowds, curious to hear what the famous speaker had to say. While lecturing in Huron, she called President William Howard Taft “that rotten piece of meat at Washington.”
    She had her detractors, though.  
“Carrie has a habit of consigning every one to h-ll but herself, and she must be anticipating a lonesome career through the eternal ages,” noted the Citizen Republican in Scotland, S.D.
    In Yankton, college boys sang drinking songs as the curtain went up at the opera house in which she spoke.
    The Union County Courier in Elk Point noted, “She is worth seeing and hearing, but converts and convinces no one. She is an extremist, makes bold and unsupported assertions and is rightly regarded as a freak.”
    Nation spoke out against many things, but she was an advocate for woman suffrage and the rights of the poor and homeless.
    She died a year after her lecture tour in South Dakota, on June 9, 1911.
    An article about Nation’s lecture in Philip appeared in the March 3, 1920 Philip Weekly Review. It stated:
Aunt Carry in Philip
    “Mrs. Carry A. Nation, the noted saloon smasher, lectured in the Grand opera house Friday evening, under her own auspices. The announcement that she was to be here brought out a crowd that jammed the house, and many could not obtain seats.
    The lecture itself was the same stereotyped talk given in ever part of the country, but Mrs. Nation, at the same time, is keen enough to handle herself in any emergency that might arise. She is a rank prohibitionist, not only as pertains to the buying and sale of liquor, but in every fault to which the human race is subject. In her show of fire-eating, she lands into those who tolerate liquor and saloons, to the user of tobacco, and to the lodge joiner, and especially the masons.
    From bitter experiences of her days, she is perhaps fitted to talk against intemperance and for strict prohibition. That she has no use for any of the political parties, except the straight-laced prohibitionists, she made manifest in few words.
    Her basis for attack on secret societies is not founded on her own experiences, but from hearsay, and is most ill-advised. She has been denounced from the pulpit and through the press for her stand on the subject, but if there is anything the old lady likes it is a show of fight on the part of those she attacks. She challenges anyone who is a member of societies she attacks to prove that what she says is false, but this could not be done by the member of any secret order, without violation of obligations.
    From the standpoint of the earnest advocates of the temperance cause, it is certain that Mrs. Nation is not getting them anything. To the average person, her crusade appears to be nothing but a huge graft, with herself along as the beneficiary.
    Go it, Aunt Carry. You are most certainly the only thing in your line.”
     The state Archives contains a photo album of pictures in Philip dated 1910. There is a similar photo, if not the same photo, of Carry Nation, dated Feb. 26, 1910. The person who donated the photo album wrote “I remember Carrie being there and the way she blasted Masons and booze at the opera house. Recall Albert Anderson laughing at some of her triades on Masonry. Note gang in front of saloon. Probably wondered if she would wade in on them there.”

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
E Mail:

Sign Up For Breaking News

Stay informed on our latest news!

Manage my subscriptions

Subscribe to Newsletter feed
Comment Here