Carey Hotel and Carry A. Nation (1900)
Backstory and Context
On December 27, 1900, Carry A. Nation arrived in Wichita, Kansas intent on leaving the city with fewer bars and more advocates of temperance. That night she explored the city and focussed her attention on the Carey Hotel, perhaps due to the provocative painting on its wall entitled, “Cleopatra at the Bath.” The next morning, she announced her intentions on the street by proclaiming “Men of Wichita, this is the right arm of God and is destined to wreck every saloon in your city.” This bold proclamation was then followed by her doing several thousands of dollars in damage to the Carey Hotel, including destroying the painting of Cleopatra. Nation was promptly jailed, but the story of this event spread quickly across the state. Carry A. Nation had destroyed perhaps the finest bar in all of Kansas thereby increasing her fame1.
Carry A. Nation is a complicated figure whose motivations are not easily understood by everyone. Her critics simply dismiss her as either crazy, hysterical, or overly religious, but her motivations and tactics become more clear upon looking at the totality of her life. Nation experienced abuse and had a history of mental illness in her family, and she was driven by her experience with her first husband who was a chronic alcoholic. A 1929 biography by Herbert Asbury characterizes this relationship as poisoning her towards men and leading to her seek revenge on all men2. However, more recent assessments of Nation tend to emphasize her growing support of temperance within a larger movement for women's rights.
In June of 1900, Carry Nation claimed to be lead by a vision from God went to Kiowa, Kansas to smash up her first bar. Carry Nation from there went on to bust up bars throughout the state of Kansas. Carry went from using bats and rocks to using her trademark hatchet. As her exploits gained notoriety, Nation became better at promoting herself. Carry Nation styled herself as a religious crusader fighting for women against the scourge of alcoholism. She used a backstory that was built around her ex-husband’s alcoholism and visions sent from God to craft a mythology that surrounded her. This was a part of the reason that her exploits gained national attention, and the attention led to more people reading her articles and attending her lectures where she discussed women's rights as well as suffrage.
1 Carver, Frances Grace. “With Bible in One Hand and Battle-Axe in the Other: Carry A. Nation as Religious Performer and Self-Promoter.” University of California Press, vol. 9, 1999, pp. 31–65.
2 Asbury, Herbert. Carry Nation. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1929.
3 Darling, Arthur Burr. “Glimpses of a Prairie City.” Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 67, Oct. 1941, pp. 490–499. Third.
4 Stanley, Judith M. “A Sound Rendering of Women's History.” The History Teacher, vol. 6, no. 4, 1973, pp. 511–522., doi:10.2307/492448.