Carry Nation: Smashing a message

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

I have to be honest.

I decided I had to include Carry Nation in this series when I found out that she carried – and was photographed with – a hatchet that she used to smash up bar rooms.

A hatchet.

To smash up bar rooms.

Born in November 1846, Carry married Charles Gloyd, but left him after only a few months due to his alcoholism. She married again 1877 to David Nation, but her own battle with alcohol – so to speak – brought about the end of that marriage when he divorced her on the grounds of desertion in 1901.

Her battle wasn’t with addiction to alcohol but with the beverage itself. Her more traditional, low-key efforts at prohibition gave way to more extravagant displays. The story goes that she got up on the morning of June 5, 1899 to what she believed was the voice of God telling her to go smash a saloon as others before her had done. She said about it:

I threw as hard, and as fast as I could,” she later recalled, “smashing mirrors and bottles and glasses and it was astonishing how quickly this was done. These men seemed terrified, threw up their hands and backed up in the corner. My strength was that of a giant. I felt invincible. God was certainly standing by me.

Her saloon-smashing exploits often included hymn singing, prayers and what could be called preaching as she smashed bar fixtures and its offerings with her hatchet.

She was arrested various times over the years, and often paid the fines with money earned from speaking at events and even from the sale of souvenir hatchets.

It was during one of those speeches that she collapsed and died in 1911.

What prompted Carry to take her message to such extremes? Her mother had died in an insane asylum believing herself to be Queen Victoria, and her daughter was also mentally unstable. It’s possible that Carry herself suffered mental health issues.

It’s hard to say what lessons we can take from the life of Carry Nation. Maybe that our method can sometimes overshadow our message. Maybe that we shouldn’t judge another person’s actions since we can’t know the life experience and motivation behind it.

Or, maybe we can just take Carry at face value.

She’s a woman who believed deeply in her cause, and stopped at nothing to deliver her message even into a hostile environment.

What obstacles are you willing to overcome to share your message?


This is the 24th post in my Write 31 Days series for 2017 in which I am taking a devotional look at key women in Christian history. For more information, or to start the series from the beginning, visit the introductory post.

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