Ken Burns Classroom

Carry Nation

Ken Burns Film: Prohibition

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 6-12

Carry Nation
Carry Nation at the Dewey Theatre, New York. Source: Kansas Historical Society.

The most celebrated – and most controversial – temperance champion of her time, Carry Nation’s life was filled with tragedy. Her mother died in an insane asylum, convinced she was Queen Victoria. Her first husband drank himself to death. A second unhappy marriage ended in divorce.

Convinced that God was on her side, Nation smashed up saloons all over the state of Kansas. Her favored tool was a hatchet. Hundreds of women and a smaller number of men rallied to her, bringing their own stones and bricks, sticks and hatchets, and calling themselves the “Home Defenders.” Nation hoped her movement would spread across the country and sweep away all of the nation’s saloons but, like the Woman’s Crusade, it died almost as quickly as it had arisen.

“Every movement needs some people to call attention to itself by bold action. She knew that you had to draw attention and you needed the press following you. You had to make the right enemies. I don’t think she’s at all representative of the movement. She’s simply the one who called attention to it. And then patient, hardworking people followed through.”
— Martin Marty, theologian

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