Mental illness ran in the family of Carrie Moore, whose mother believed that she was Queen Victoria, causing the family to move many times in Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas. After the end of the Civil War Carrie met a former Union Army doctor, whom she married in 1867, and whom she left the following year after giving birth to a daughter. The doctor died in 1869, supposedly from the ravages of alcoholism. In 1874 Carrie married for a second time, to David Nation, a lawyer and minister who was 19 years older than his new bride. After failing at farming in Texas and at saddlemaking and running a hotel. the Nations moved to Medicine Lodge in Kansas in 1889.
David Nation worked as a preacher and Carrie operated a small hotel. She also started a branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Carrie’s daughter from her first marriage by then exhibited the mental health issues which had plagued Carrie’s mother (delusions, among other symptoms) and Carrie began to pray for direction in her life. According to what she later wrote, Carrie’s prayers were answered in a divine vision in which she was directed by the Almighty to smash saloons with rocks. Specifically, the saloon to be smashed was in Kiowa, and the direction to smash it was accompanied by the reassurance, “I’ll stand by you.”
In accordance with her orders, Carrie visited Dobson’s Saloon on June 7, 1900, announced to its patrons that she was there to save them, “from a drunkard’s fate”, and proceeded to use rocks to smash the business’s fixtures and stock. It was her husband’s suggestion, offered sarcastically, that she should switch to using a hatchet; she took up the suggestion and he divorced her the following year. Arrested repeatedly, her bail and fines were paid for through speaking and appearance fees and WCTU donations. Between 1900 and 1910 Carrie was arrested more than thirty times and became nationally famed and feared.
Carrie also became a vocal supporter of women’s rights and the suffragette movement, and led marches in several towns and cities of women supporters of prohibition in the Home Defender’s League, which argued that the existence of saloons was a threat to the safety and security of the family and home. Carrie proclaimed that she was a, “bulldog running along the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like”, and became a leading proponent of women abandoning the wearing of tight clothing and corsets, which she claimed damaged the internal organs by compressing them together, and were in any case degrading to women.
Later in life Carrie Nation capitalized on her notoriety, appearing in vaudeville in the United States and on a tour of music halls in Great Britain, where she was booed off one stage and driven off another by objects thrown at her by the audience. She began selling photographs of herself holding her famous hatchet, and toy hatchets as souvenirs in order to make money. She died in a hospital for those suffering from addictions and mental disorders in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1911. Following her death the Women’s Christian Temperance Union did much to lionize her, including overstating charitable works and other activities for which there was little historical evidence.