She died 100 years ago this month, yet Carrie Nation’s name is still known today as a hatchet-wielding fighter against alcohol. The reason is simple. Carrie Nation knew the same thing that many people looking for headlines know today—outrageousness attracts attention and outrageousness sells.
Nation didn’t trust mere outrageousness to get her name in the papers. She hired press agents. One was John M. Gregory, who waited until her death (in a story published in the Albuquerque Journal of June 22, 1911) to call her a:
Fearless fanatic, boldly defying the world, greedy for money and seeking the best method for getting it; alive to the value of advertising and quick to grasp the dramatic and sensational, a grafter of the lowest kind; a miser in her love for gold; a glutton for publicity; a leech; a money-vampire...The waste, the injustice, the criminal side of her actions never seemed to enter her head.
But Gregory also waxes about her “simple, motherly character, as lovable as that of any woman I have ever known.” Newspaper reporters weren’t as charitable. Some suggested her antics weren’t coldly calculated for mere publicity, but were the product of a diseased, uncontrollable mind.
While it’s known today that Nation was a strict prohibitionist, what may not be known is she was a strict anti-Mason. This is quite evident in an incident in Pittsburgh in 1908. This item (likely an Associated Press story) comes from the Indiana Evening Advertiser of Indiana, Pennsylvania:
CARRIE NATION ARRESTED
Pittsburg Police Treat Her With Scant Courtesy.
Pittsburg, May 27.—For a tirade delivered against passengers in a street car Mrs. Carrie Nation, the Kansas saloon smasher, was arrested. The technical charge was disorderly conduct. Mrs. Nation was riding in a trailer of a Mount Washington car and on the rear platform three men were smoking cigarets.
“You’re smoking up your brains and money. This air is so polluted with your smoke that my stomach is turning,” said Mrs. Nation.
This evidently put her in a fighting mood. Across the aisle a man sat. On his lapel was a Masonic emblem.
“You should he ashamed to wear that symbol of idolatry,” she shouted. “Heathen idol worshipers is what all of your kind are. You have your worshipful masters. If that isn’t idolatry, what is it?”
The Mason in question was A.L. Dement, an electrician from the Knoxville district. The Pittsburgh Press of the same date gives part of his testimony.
“She became excited and called me a murderer and said that the order was a band of cut-throats and murderers. Your honor, she kept this up this tirade for ten minutes. I thought the woman was crazy. I was embarrassed by her abuse and she caused disorder in the street car by her actions.”
Nation acted as her own lawyer and demanded to cross-examine Bro. Dement. The magistrate agreed but instead of asking about the criminal case, she pressed a bunch of questions about Freemasonry. The magistrate interrupted:
“You will have to stop that, lady. That man is not on trial and neither is his society.”
She was fined $25 plus court costs, which were paid by members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union passing a hat in the courtroom. She paid nary a cent for her crime. But she got lots of publicity. And The Press took advantage of it by having Nation pen an article that ran the following Sunday, spouting about the evils of drink and tobacco. Freemasonry was noticeably absent.
There was more to Nation’s anti-Masonry than wilful ignorance about the purpose of an annually-elected officer of a Lodge. She began her anti-alcohol crusade because her first marriage was a failure. She and her husband Dr. Charles Gloyd separated in 1868 after less than a year, and he died a year later. Not only was he an alcoholic, he was the first Worshipful Master of Holden Lodge No. 262 in Holden, Missouri at the time of the failure of his marriage. It’s quite possible she blamed Masonry for his alcohol intake and their break-up.
The great irony is some Masonic jurisdictions in the United States agreed with Nation’s dogged insistence about the immorality of liquor. Saloon keepers and brewery workers were automatically declared unfit for Masonic membership and Grand Lodges forbade alcohol in buildings where Masons met. At least one Canadian Masonic commentator of that era noted, somewhat sardonically, the double standard that none of the American Grand Lodges in question saw fit to prohibit alcohol consumers from becoming members, just manufacturers and sellers.
Is there anything to be learned from this look back? Well, it may be a good reminder that temperance is a Masonic virtue and “none [should] convert the purposes of refreshment into intemperance and excess.” And that illogical anti-Masonic zealots have always been with us and likely always will be. There’s nothing Masons can do about it. Masons can, however, live their lives according to principles outlined in our ceremonies, to the benefit of their families and their friends, so “the world at large may be convinced of [Freemasonry’s] good effects.”