Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Artifact alert: The violent legend of Carry Nation

October 9, 2012 by NCC Staff


One of the featured artifacts at the National Constitution Center’s “American Spirits” exhibit is Carry Nation’s hatchet, which was feared by saloon goers nationwide at the start of the 20th century.


The exhibit opens on October 19th in Philadelphia and Nation’s weapon of choice is among the many featured artifacts.


Nation destroyed dozens of saloons in her lifetime, first with rocks and then with a special hatchet, as she started a one-woman crusade to end drinking.


She was also an important figure in the run-up to Prohibition in the 1920s, as her work put a face, albeit stern one, on the temperance cause.


Between 1900 and 1910, Nation was arrested about 30 times for breaking up saloons, often with the help of other members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She often faced fines, but that didn’t stop her from her mission.


And part of that mission was promoting Carry Nation. The six-foot tall Nation sold souvenir hatchets and other items to supplement her income, pay her fines and further her celebrity.


One person who reportedly fled from Nation was the legendary boxer John L. Sullivan, who hid in his New York City saloon when Nation dropped by for a “hatchetation.”


Nation died in 1911 in Kansas after falling ill in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.


The hatchet on display at “American Spirits” is from 1901 and it was made by William Beatty and Son, a tool company located in Chester, Pennsylvania.


Step back in time to an era of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance workers, and real-life legends like Al Capone and Carry Nation. Don’t miss the world premiere of American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, the nation’s first exhibition on our most colorful constitutional hiccup! Opens October 19! Tickets and info:


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