Imagine yourself as a turn-of-the-20th-century working-class American male. After spending all week in appalling working conditions marked by long hours, low pay, and shitty treatment, the only light you have in your otherwise bleak existence is your Friday night at the saloon. You’re boozing and gambling away your meager paycheck with your equally browbeaten buddies trying to forget the utterly unsatisfying and endless turmoil that is your existence, but you’re thankful you made it through another week without having your arm ripped off at the ol’ mill. Suddenly, the door of the saloon bursts opens and in enters a hatchet-wielding, spectacle-wearing, middle-aged woman yelling, “Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate.” That was the 1900s equivalent of “You motherfuckers need Jesus!”
That menacing woman was Carrie Nation, a named both feared and mocked by drunken lowlifes of yore. Carrie Nation was a part of the temperance movement before being a part of the temperance movement was the fashionable thing for devout Christian women to do.
You sit there not sure what to do. You’ve read of this rampaging woman in the papers, but you never imagined she’d come to the place where you drink your misery away. She raises her hatchet and skillfully smashes several bottles of whiskey with one devastating swoop. Then she takes another swing and another. A few minutes later, every bottle of alcohol in the saloon lays shattered on the floor. Grown men stare stunned. She leaves the saloon and heads to another. She’s only begun.
Carrie Nation really fucking hated alcohol.
Born in 1846, she had a life filled with tragedy. Her mother died in an insane asylum. Her first husband was a drunk and became increasingly unreliable. He drank himself to death shortly after Carrie left him. She married again, only to have it end in divorce.
Realizing that marriage, love, and happiness probably wasn’t her thing, she devoted herself to God and the temperance movement. Carrie’s early strategies involved doing peaceful protests with hymns and japes at the bartender by greeting them with “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.” This plan yielded little results in stopping men whose only saving grace in life was alcohol.
Carrie knew she needed to step it up a notch if she wanted to get results. As a God-fearing woman, in 1900 she got on her knees and prayed to the Lord Almighty. She prayed with all her will and devotion. Back then, God wasn’t the flaky asshole he is now about answering people’s prayers, so he promptly gave Carrie a vision:
“Go to Kiowa [a town in Kansas]. I’ll stand by you.”
Since God always likes to keep shit vague, Carrie ran with it and took it as meaning: “Go to Kiowa and fuck some saloons up with rocks.”
And fuck saloons up with rocks she did. She walked into a bar in Kiowa with a bag full of rocks—or “smashers,” as she termed them—and valiantly threw them against the mirrors and bottles of the saloon. She was getting her revenge on the place where the serpent drink crushed the hopes of her early years. She repeated this action at two more bars. By the time she was finished with the third, a crowd had gathered cheering her on. When the sheriff arrived, Carrie displayed how much of a gangster she truly was—she dared him to arrest her. He didn’t.
Emboldened by her God-approved vandalism, she headed off to Wichita and attacked the most popular saloon in town. The Wichita police weren’t the pushovers that they were in Kiowa, and Carrie was arrested for defacing property. “I am defacing nothing. I am destroying,” she said as she was being arrested. Jail didn’t faze Carrie: “You put me in here a cub, but I will come out a roaring lion. I will make all hell howl.”
After getting out of jail, she adopted her trademark hatchet as her instrument of booze destruction. She headed off from one small town you’ve never heard of to another you’ve never heard of. She would be arrested time and again, each time scoffing at the law and paying the fines for her release. She even had the governor of Kansas plead with her to stop her attacks. “You are a woman. And a woman must know a woman’s place.” Carrie strutted out and called for a hatchetation.
Now, what the fuck is a hatchetation?
A hatchetation was when hundreds of women and a few men who really fucking hate alcohol would destroy over 100 saloons throughout Kansas. It was so effective that it forced state senators to actually do their jobs and enforce the laws already on the books regarding prohibition in Kansas.
Even back then, Americans were a fickle bunch and as quickly as Carrie Nation got things going, the movement faded away. Carrie didn’t give a fuck; she went solo on her crusades and kept many bartenders on alert until her death in 1911.
You’re with your buddies, stepping over the destruction that Carrie Nation left behind. You shake your head in bewilderment and look at the sign above the bar:
“All nations welcome, except Carrie.”
Read more of my articles at Thought Catalog.