1908 : Carrie Nation, Temperence Champion, Descends on Detroit

August 24, 2022 all-day

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The most famous saloon smasher of them all was Carrie Nation from Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the daughter of a Fundamentalist Kentucky planter father and a psychotic mother. Some historians believe Carrie Nation herself was psychotic. (Her daughter was also diagnosed with psychosis.) She was nearly six feet tall and 175 pounds, her uniform a gray raglan and a black straw bonnet. At age 54 in 1900 she became unsettled by several illicit saloons and a drugstore in Medicine Lodge. She first attacked the drugstore with a sledge hammer, then three of the illegal saloons with bricks and rocks, hurling at them anything she could find. She continued to other Kansas towns, where she and a few other WCTU women demolished several saloons, then lectured the crowds.

1895 cartoon by Amelia Moore

She toured the U.S., and at many train stops was greeted by thousands of supporters, like this adoring crowd she addressed on a train platform in Des Moines:

“God bless you. You are all saloon smashers; I can see it in your faces. We must all work together to down rum and the Devil. …”

In 1908 she reached Detroit, entering Considine’s Saloon on Monroe Street at 9 p.m. on Aug. 24, a busy night made busier with rumor of her arrival. She walked through the saloon to the back room where the boys “ate beefsteaks and drank beer at small tables.” The Free Press said she scrutinized the art on the wall that the paper described as “pictures of feminine beauty that are undeniably artistic but not because of their superfluous drapery.”

“A gilded Hell!” she exclaimed and stormed over to lecture the bartenders, then moved on to other saloons and finally a 20-minute harangue at Michigan Central Station to a large crowd.

Two days later she went out to the village of Holly in Oakland County for a lecture attended by two or three hundred farm families. Michigan Gov. Fred Warner arrived and she confronted him for not firing the Detroit police commissioner, whom she said was not enforcing the Sunday liquor law. The governor said a few words, then with the lieutenant governor by his side literally ran from her and an angry mob of farmers to hide in a hardware store. “You’re a coward!” she screamed after the two.

Carry Nation’s visit to the Holly Hotel caused tremendous notoriety when Ms. Nation and her Pro-Temperance supporters invaded the town, clubbing patrons of the Holly Hotel with their umbrellas. The painting of the flimsily clad lady above the bar unleashed further wrath, and Carry began smashing whiskey bottles with her trademark ax. Ms. Nation was appalled at the attitude of the Holly Hotel proprietor when he refused to condemn the drinking habits of the locals that patronized the Holly Hotel’s very large bar.

Her misguided and destructive actions prompted the Holly Hotel owner to have her arrested and lodged in the local jail. Governor Warner used Carry Nation’s incarceration as a political reason to visit Holly and address the townspeople on August 29th.

Sources : Bill Loomis, “Booze and temperance in Detroit’s hard-drinking early years”, Detroit News Blog, October 24, 2012.

The History of the Holly Hotel.  According to this source, Carry Nation visited the Holly Hotel on August 29.

Mickey Lyons, “Hatchetations in Holly and Detroit: Carrie Nation Comes to Town“, Prohibition Detroit, August 26, 2017.

Carrie Sizes Up the Pictures : Mrs. Nation Visits Considine’s Saloon, Views the Walls and Lectures Bartender and Crowd. Detroit Free Press, August 25, 1908, p.3. (Access restricted to the MSU Community and other Proquest Historical Newspaper subscribers)

For more information, see Carry A. Nation, The Famous and Original Bar Room Smasher, an online exhibit by the Kansas Historical Society.

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