116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Time Machine: Carrie Nation brings her anti-alcohol crusade to Iowa
Kansan preached Prohibition to thousands
Carrie Nation’s calling as a Prohibitionist began in June 1900 in Kiowa, Kan., where she attacked three bars with rocks and pieces of bricks. Six months later, she began using a hatchet to destroy bars in Wichita.
Gazette archives show that Nation — whose first husband died of alcoholism — brought her anti-alcohol message to Iowans for nearly a decade before her death. Alcohol, she preached, wreaked havoc on families and on a drinker’s health.
As a notorious celebrity, Nation was inundated with requests for her appearance. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Waterloo asked her to visit in February 1901. Her second husband, David Nation, who was acting as her secretary, would not commit to that appearance.
She did, however, announce she was going to visit Des Moines “for the express purpose of smashing saloons,” The Gazette reported.
Des Moines saloonkeeper E. Romario said he’d acquired 50 rats and mice to let loose on the temperance leader and her followers. Other barkeepers vowed to meet her with a brass band.
In Des Moines
On Feb. 9, 1901, 3,000 people met Nation at the Rock Island Railroad depot in Des Moines. She clutched a telegram in her hand as she pushed her way through the crowd.
Arriving at the Sabin House, the only hotel in the city without a bar, she shared the contents of the telegram from Joseph S. Schlitz of the Schlitz Brewing Co.
Schlitz said he appreciated Nation’s “energy and sincerity in the cause of true temperance” and he offered her $500 a month — more than $15,000 in today’s dollars — to lecture on “true temperance” and the “temperate use of absolutely pure Schlitz beer, the beer that made Milwaukee famous.”
Asked if she would accept, Nation said, “Yes, accept and agree to advertise their beer if they agree to let me smash every place where it is sold.”
After visiting four saloons in Des Moines — but smashing none of them — police persuaded Nation to return to her hotel.
“I do no smashing in Iowa and will do none in Chicago (her next stop) because the people would justly say that we better go clean our own hands first,” she said. “But after Kansas is clean, we will go into other states.”
Hatchets for sale
Nation briefly stopped at the railway depot in Iowa City on Feb. 11 where she spoke to about 50 people from a railcar platform. She continued on to Muscatine where she spoke to a sold-out opera house.
Nation’s efforts to finance her anti-liquor crusade included selling little souvenir hatchets, made by Jones-Keenan Manufacturing Co. in Davenport, for 50 cents a dozen.
A classified ad in the March 4, 1901, Gazette proclaimed, “Carrie Nation’s Hatchet, the Little Smasher, does the work. An attractive miniature hatchet that is selling like wildfire. Big profits.”
In April, David Nation went back to his home in Medicine Lodge, Kan., telling a friend that following his wife around was exhausting. He filed for divorce, which was granted in November.
More Iowa stops
Nation went back on the speaking circuit, sponsored by the Anti-Saloon League.
Her tours included the Buchanan County Fair in Independence on Sept. 9, 1904, where she admitted to “a sense of weariness.” She continued on at Cedar Falls, where she made speeches and sold souvenir hatchets.
In 1907, she signed a contract to star in a national play, “Ten Nights in a Barroom.”
The next year, she took her crusade to Great Britain.
She was back in Iowa in June 1909 to speak at the third annual West Union Chautauqua.
It was a trip she may have wished she had skipped. Iowa was in the middle of a heat spell June 30. Nation’s train from Kansas City was late, so the Rock Island train was held two hours at Columbus Junction so she could meet it, but she missed her connection to West Union.
Nation looked for a chauffeur to get her to West Union. No one was available. She returned to the Rock Island depot and ordered a special train to West Union. The special train went into a ditch 3 miles from Independence and blocked the branch line until Thursday morning. Trainmen thought the derailment might have been caused by heat twisting the rails.
Nation was taken back to Independence to spend the night. She finally got to West Union on the morning of July 1.
Cedar Rapids stop
Nation stopped in Cedar Rapids for a short time between trains Aug. 18, 1909. At Union Station, she refused to use a passageway between the dining room and the ladies’ waiting room because there was a cigar stand there. She instead went outside and around the station.
Nation was in Cedar Rapids again from about 4:30 to 10 p.m. Aug. 27. She strode into The Gazette’s office on First Avenue and told reporters that her protests had resulted in more than $5,000 in fines, or about $156,000 in today’s dollars. She also had a caustic opinion of the Rock Island Railroad, saying that after the derailment, the railroad refused to return her fare.
Nation was back in Cedar Rapids in August 1910 on her way to Vinton and Tama. While waiting for her train at Union Station, she called out every man who smoked in front of her.
On her return trip in the evening, she stopped at the Montrose Hotel to exchange a heavy bag of change for dollar bills. She then announced she couldn’t stay there because a saloon was operating on the same block.
After listening to her lecture some of the guests and the cigar girl, the Montrose’s head clerk, Sam Foster, intervened and told her where to find a hotel not near a saloon.
Nation left Cedar Rapids for Iowa City’s Chautauqua where she spoke to 3,000 people in a rainstorm. It was one of her last appearances in Iowa. While in Iowa City, she refused to ride in a cab because the cabbie smoked, and she again found a hotel that didn’t have a saloon nearby.
Nation succumbed to poor health in late 1910 and died in June 1911 in Leavenworth, Kan., nine years before the nation enacted Prohibition laws. That social experiment ended in 1933 with the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.