Welcome to Feminist Foremothers, a mama.film podcast hosted by Emily Christensen.
You’re listening to a series about the cultural legacies of complicated women who belong to history — but still exert influence in surprising ways. In episode one, we dive in with the notorious Carry Nation.
If you’re not from Kansas, you probably haven’t heard of her. But at the dawn of the twentieth century, Carry Nation was one of the most famous women in the world, both celebrated and reviled for smashing up bars with her trusty hatchet….
Tune in to learn more about this complex woman and how her legacy can be traced through pop culture to modern-day icons like Chrissy Teigen and Charlize Theron. And if she were on social media today, would she be worthy of a follow?
Welcome to Feminist Foremothers, a mama.film podcast. I’m your host Emily Christensen.
You’re listening to a series about the cultural legacies of three very complicated women: Carry Nation, Hattie McDaniel, and Rosie the Riveter. Each belong to history — but they still exert influence in surprising ways.
Episode one: The notorious Carry Nation
If you’re not from Kansas, you probably haven’t heard of her. But at the dawn of the twentieth century, Carry Nation was one of the most famous women in the world, both celebrated and reviled for smashing up bars with her trusty hatchet.
Before we get started, I want to tell you a little bit about mama.film. In 2019, Lela Meadow-Conner brought independent movies by and about women to her microcinema in Wichita, Kansas. Since then, she has collaborated on initiatives such as the rePRO Film Festival and the Mothership Screenwriters Lab.
Now, mama.film is an official Satellite Screen for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. From January 28–February 2, you can catch screenings of 11 official Sundance selections at Wichita’s Starlite Drive-In. P art of this collaboration includes original Beyond Film content, including the podcast you’re listening to right now. Learn more and purchase tickets at mama-dot-film.
I’ve lived in Wichita, Kansas, for more than twenty years. I don’t remember the first time I heard about Carry Nation, but it couldn’t have been long after I arrived. Carry never lived here, but Wichita was most definitely the birthplace of her notoriety. On December, 27, 1900, she paid a visit to the bar in the Carey Hotel, one of the city’s fanciest drinking establishments. Here’s what happened, according to an account in a prohibitionist newspaper:
On the day before her attack, she visited nine joints and warned them that she would smash things on the following day if they did not quit their unlawful business. The day arriving, she visited the saloon in the Hotel Carey, threw a stone through the glass covering a life-sized picture of a nude woman, knocked the decanter from the bar and smashed a large plate-glass mirror.
Carry accomplished $3,000 worth of damage before she moved on to target another saloon. In today’s dollars, that’s more than ninety grand. Eventually, she was arrested and charged with destruction of property.
The building where Carry conducted her raid still stands. A few years after her ambush, the name changed to the Eaton hotel. Allen Ginsberg was a guest there in 1966, and he referenced both the hotel and Carry Nation in his poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” The poem connects Carry’s
quote-“vortex of hatred,” to the violence of the Vietnam War. Like so many men before him, Ginsberg didn’t understand Carry at all, nor did bother to try.
Around the turn of the 21st century, a developer converted the hotel rooms to apartments, and for a couple of years in my mid-twenties, I lived in a one-bedroom on the fifth floor. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, occupies a full city block on Douglas Avenue. It’s just a few steps from Old Town, a bar and entertainment district.
In Kansas, Carry’s influence endures. Her cultural inheritance includes Wichita-based band Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy, which borrowed her name. Artist Wayne White created a ten-foot-tall Carry puppet that stomped around downtown as part of the 2015 Wichita River Festival Sundown Parade. And a few years ago, Babs Mellor’s bronze, life-sized statue of Carry was installed on Douglas, right outside the Eaton.
In her contemporary biography of Carry Nation, Fran Grace writes that no one really wants to claim Carry. As a holy roller who campaigned for a lost cause, she holds minimal appeal for contemporary feminists. As a woman who forced herself into male-dominated spaces, she isn’t a great fit for religious conservatives, either.
When I began researching Carry for this podcast, I only knew the outline of her story: the caricature, the sly reference, a statue. My investigation took me places I didn’t expect, including Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram feed, the women’s suffrage movement, sobriety memoirs, and Mad Max: Fury Road.
I guess the result of all of this is that I’m prepared to claim Carry. And not just because of her colorful story or local connection. Carry Nation was as weird and brash, as warm and windswept, as the place I’ve learned to call home.
To paraphrase Walt Whitman: She is vast. She contains multitudes.
Part One: Chrissy Teigen quit drinking
In late December, celebrity cookbook author and American treasure Chrissy Teigen posted a goofy Instagram video of herself singing and dancing. One of her thirty-three-point-seven million Instagram followers commented: “I need whatever drugs you’re on!”
Teigen replied with four words and four emoji: “4 weeks sober, double heart, prayer hands, double heart, prayer hands.”
Later, Teigen revealed she had quit drinking after reading the book Quit Like a Woman, Holly Whitaker’s feminist recovery memoir-slash-guide.
On an Insta story, Teigen wrote, “I was done with making an ass of myself in front of people (I’m still embarrassed), tired of day drinking and feeling like shit by 6, not being able to sleep.”
Teigen had been thinking about the toll alcohol was taking on her life for at least a few years. In 2017, she told fashion magazine Marie Claire that she was working to moderate her intake. She said she just felt better when she didn’t drink.
Teigen wasn’t the kind of person you’d consider a “problem drinker.” But according to researchers, a lot of us drink too much — about 18 percent of Americans, according to the CDC. Kansas is just under the national average; about one in six of us are excessive drinkers. In modern life, conversation about alcohol’s negative consequences has centered around addiction — and for good reason: alcohol has devastating effects on the lives of addicts and the people around them. But all excessive drinkers put themselves at risk of a range of negative health outcomes, from cancer and chronic illness to becoming the victim of a crime. About 90% of excessive drinkers are not addicted to alcohol. Holly Whitaker and many others argue that we need to talk more about this much larger group.
More of us are heavier drinkers than we probably realize; the Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. And if you’re anything like me, a drink may be a lot smaller than you think. The USDA says it’s equivalent to twelve fluid ounces of regular beer, five fluid ounces of wine, or one-and-a-half fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. The higher alcohol content in a stout or double IPA might rate it as one and a half or even two servings. Five ounces of wine is approximately two-thirds of a cup, one ounce shy of a typical restaurant pour. It turns out that the only way to “Rosé all day” in moderation is to have a single shot of wine at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Anyway, back to Chrissy Teigan, whose enormous celebrity can trigger an avalanche of entertainment news items with a single social media post. Her Instagram book review created an immediate demand for Quit Like a Woman. Just four days after she mentioned it, the book hit the Amazon Charts as the #4 bestselling book for the week of January 3. A couple weeks later, it made the New York Times bestseller list for the first time.
Quit Like a Woman is a little difficult to describe. It’s part memoir, part dire warning, part social commentary, part recovery guide — all with a healthy dose of feminism. Here’s a typical passage: “Drinking has become so ingrained in the female code, we don’t even recognize the nearly endless ways it’s pierced our every experience, or even stop to think about the cost of that infiltration. Wine and spirits and beer are a celebrated, quintessential accessory to having made it as a woman.”
Whitaker isn’t the first feminist to criticize alcohol and the role it plays in women’s lives. In 1979, media critic Jean Kilbourne released her first documentary, Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. She went on to collaborate on several more lecture-style documentaries, all of which critique the role of advertising in American life. My introduction to Kilbroune’s work was her 1999 book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. Parts
of it feel a bit dated now, but the book still stands up as an important work of media criticism. In a chapter titled “Forget the Rules! Enjoy the Wine,” Kilbourne writes about how the alcohol industry targets women with the “theme of liberation,” a tactic it has deployed for decades. She uses a Chivas Royal ad from the mid-nineteen-seventies as an example. The copy reads, “Now
that you’re bringing home the bacon, don’t forget the Chivas.” The image is a beautiful, beringed hand plucking a bottle of scotch off the liquor store shelf. Liberated women in alcohol advertising are also attractive and successful, of course. They have it all, in part because they have a drink in their hand.
Kilbourne also points out that the alcohol industry profits from binge drinkers and heavy users:
“If every adult American drank at the ‘safe’ level according to federal guidelines … alcohol industry sales would be cut by 80 percent. As one researcher said, ‘Though problem-free drinking does exist for great numbers of people, it is at such picayune levels that it would sustain only a fraction of the present alcoholic beverage industry.’”
This might not be such a big deal if excessive drinking did not have enormous public health consequences. Research shows consumption
increases risky behaviors and violent crime. Alcohol is a factor in more than half of reported sexual assaults and incidents of domestic violence, crimes that disproportionately victimize women.
Like Kilbourne, Caroline Knapp discusses the relationship between drinking and sexual assault in her 1996 memoir Drinking: A Love Story. The book is an account of her recovery, but also an exploration of why she became an addict in the first place. Among the many reasons is what she calls the “discomfort of being female:” the constant ogling, cat-calls, and small violations of her body.
Twenty years after Knapp’s memoir, Kristi Coulter authored a viral Medium post about her own reasons for drinking — and then not drinking. She wrote: “There’s no easy way to be a woman, because there’s no acceptable way to be a woman. And if there’s no acceptable way to be the thing that you are, maybe you drink a little. Or a lot.”
The essay is included in Couler’s 2018 essay collection Nothing Good Can Come of This. The book is part of a publishing boomlet of recovery literature authored by women. Many of these books echo the same theme: drinking isn’t a means of liberation for women — and it may be just
the opposite. Coulter wrote, “Booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we should be making other noise.”
Many, decades ago, another group of ladies surveyed the landscape and decided that alcohol wasn’t great for women. They were called prohibitionists, but they were also proto-feminists. It’s just the methods that have changed. Modern-day temperance feminists rage against alcohol using media criticism, memoir and recovery. Prohibitionists used political organizing and sometimes destruction of property. That brings us back to Carry Nation.
Carry arrived in Kansas in 1889, having yet again followed her husband to a new town where he hoped to find success. She was a 28-year-old widow with a young child when she met and married David Nation in 1874. He was nearly fifty. It’s very likely that Carry viewed her second marriage as a means of survival — not exactly rom-com material.
David was a newspaperman-slash-lawyer-slash-minister, but he often struggled to make a living. A few years into their marriage, the Nations moved from Missouri to south Texas to become cotton farmers. They didn’t have enough money, and they didn’t really know what they were doing. So David moved to town to work as a lawyer, and eventually Carry began running a hotel.
Carry’s only vocational experience was in the classroom; in Missouri, she’d worked as a teacher after her first husband died. Operating a public business wasn’t exactly a respectable vocation for a woman, but Carry didn’t really have a choice — she and David were on the brink of total financial ruin. In addition to her business pursuits, Carry became active in the town’s churches, teaching Sunday school and organizing charity groups. She was doing well when David decided they needed to move again.
This established a pattern that continued throughout their marriage: Against all odds, Carry finds success. After a while, David insists they move. The Nations start over, and Carry becomes a pillar of their new community … eventually, David wants to pull up stakes again. Rinse, lather, repeat. It was almost as though David couldn’t stand the fact that his wife was a better money-maker, a better leader, and even a better preacher than he. But if David was in search of a community that would appreciate him more than Carry, he doesn’t seem to have found it.
In Texas, Carry experienced a religious awakening. She felt that God spoke to her directly, and that she had the authority to interpret the Bible herself. After the local churches booted her from their Sunday-school classrooms, Carry organized her own version of church at her hotel. After her awakening, she became even more devoted to helping her neighbors, regardless of their station in life. Later on, Carry became friends with Topeka minister Charles Sheldon, who coined a phrase that will sound very familiar if you attended a church youth group in the nineties: WWJD — “What would Jesus do?” Sheldon admired Carry’s boldness, but her disregard for Victorian propriety ticked off many of her fellow Christians, including her husband. In the divorce papers David Nation filed many years later, he complained that she gave away his property to the poor.
Classroom experience, business success, church leadership, and a spiritual awakening all combined to make Carry Nation an unusually confident woman when she arrived in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. She joined the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, an organization that advocated for the prohibition of alcohol, the right for women to vote, and other social reforms. Thanks to the WCTU and the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, Kansas women earned municipal suffrage in 1887. In the first election where women could vote, Susanna Salter became the mayor of Argonia, Kansas. She was the first woman in the country to hold this position. Around the same time, the WCTU successfully lobbied to raise the age of consent to eighteen from the age of ten. Ten.
When the Nations arrived in Kansas, the state was still a hotbed of progressivism. Its citizens believed they lived in a new promised land, a shining example for the rest of the country. Carry felt she herself had been called by God to do his work in the world, so Kansas suited her perfectly.
In 1880, Kansas was the first state to ban liquor, and its citizens considered this measure its gift to the nation. However, the law was barely enforced. Saloons stayed in business, often thanks to a bribery system that lined the pockets of judges and lawmen.
Behind the saloon door, men did business, cut political deals, and gambled their money away. Often they returned home to terrorize their families. Drinking represented women’s lack of power, both in public life and in their own homes. It’s no wonder that women fought for prohibition. They did so largely through political activism, and the most influential prohibitionist organization was the WCTU. When she arrived in Kansas, Carry was already a formidable leader, but the WCTU taught her how to be an activist.
Carry Nation had personal reasons to join the prohibitionists: Her first husband, Charles Gloyd, literally drank himself to death less than two years after their wedding. Before the WCTU, she blamed Charlie’s death on his weak character. Now she understood her private tragedy was part of a larger systemic problem. After a while, she wasn’t satisfied with confronting saloonkeepers and singing hymns outside liquor joints. She and a few of her WCTU pals smashed a barrel of whiskey in the middle of the street, but even that felt like a half measure. No one else bothered to uphold the law, so Carry decided to take matters into her own hands.
Wichita wasn’t the first destination on Carry’s bar-smashing tour. She had a trial run on a smaller stage: the town of Kiowa. Carry felt led there by God, and she went alone. She brought a bag pull of rocks that she wrapped in paper, so they looked like packages. Her Kiowa saloon raid caused a local stir. By the time Carry smashed up three bars and made the return trip to Medicine Lodge, telegrams had notified the locals about what she was up to.
National papers didn’t pick up the story until after Carry’s Wichita raid. Eastern cartoonists and newspapermen couldn’t resist this kooky midwestern character. Some speculated that her crusade had its origins in her sexual repression, or perhaps menopause. Yep, back in 1900, men were already blaming women’s transgressive behavior on their reproductive systems.
To the delight of journalists around the world, Carry didn’t quit after her raid on the bar at the Hotel Carey. She smashed up a couple more Wichita bars after her release from the Sedgwick County jail. She left a trail of destruction behind her in Enterprise, Kansas. Then she took her crusade to the capital city of Kansas. Before, Carry operated without much in the way of backup. In Topeka, she assembled an army.
Carry arrived in Topeka just in time for the state temperance conference. Before an adoring crowd, she uttered these words: “I tell you ladies, you don’t know how much joy you will have until you begin to smash, smash, smash, it is wonderful.”
Thousands of women — and men — answered Carry’s call to “agitate and chop,” an activity she called hachetation. They called themselves the Home Defenders Army and they were ultra serious: they formed units and practiced drills. Carry’s followers saw her as a modern-day John Brown, the Kansas abolitionist. He was hanged for treason after his pre-Civil-War attempt to lead an insurrection of enslaved people. By the time she arrived in Topeka, Carry had escaped two lynch mobs; she and her followers were keenly aware of the risks when they led a weeks-long campaign of destruction against the liquor merchants of Topeka. The Home Defenders felt they were within their rights to enforce the law, especially when women were still mostly shut out of the political process. Later, in an address to the Kansas state legislature, Carry said, “You refused me the vote, so I had to use a rock.”
Carry quickly amassed followers because she was different from how she was portrayed in the media. She was forceful for sure, but also warm and charismatic. She disarmed saloon-keepers and their patrons by appealing to them in a direct yet grandmotherly way: “Boys, boys … If you get into trouble, all you have to do is tell Mother Nation and she’ll be around.”
In Topeka, Carry’s natural affinity for marketing created a thriving souvenir trade. She contracted with a Rhode Island company to make Carry-Nation-branded hatchet pins to sell at rallies and on street corners. The pins were so popular that Carry and her supporters expanded into a whole line of merchandise, from signed photos to “home defender” buttons to water bottles. She was so notorious that everyone wanted a memento, even if they disagreed with Carry’s cause (or her tactics).
When I was first learning about Carry, I didn’t quite grasp her timeline. Her first Wichita smash-up happened at the end of December. By February, she’d assembled an army of thousands, addressed the Kansas legislature, and hit the lecture circuit. Not long after, she released the first issue of the Smasher’s Mail, which published both her prohibitionist rhetoric and her hate mail. As always, Carry Nation demonstrated an almost superhuman ability to get
things done, as well as an excellent sense of timing. She went on to found another magazine (The Hatchet), write a surprisingly readable autobiography, and open a home for women and children of alcoholics — a kind of early domestic violence shelter. She traveled the world and toured with vaudeville shows. A play based on her story launched the Broadway career of actor Jimmy Stewart. She was also arrested 30 times.
Carry achieved some of her goals, too: in response to her raids, the Kansas legislature strengthened prohibition laws. Carry died several years before the country saw both prohibition and women’s suffrage, though she undoubtedly contributed to both. Supposedly, her last words were, “I did what I could.”
The more I read about Carry, the more I grew to like her. I wanted to do her justice when telling her story. This task proved to be a bit stressful, because there’s so much misinformation out there. Some of it is based in misogynist critiques of Carry during her time. One example is a short silent film released by Thomas Edison’s production company 1901. It portrays David Nation, left at home to care for a child and driven to drink by his domineering wife. It reflected the anxiety that liberated women would abandon their household responsibilities and emasculate their husbands.
It took me some time to figure out how to spell her first name, even. They sound exactly the same, but on legal documents throughout the first part of her life, she was Carrie Amelia, C-A-R-R-I-E. After she became a temperance reformer, she legally changed her name to Carry A. Nation, C-A-R-R-Y because she was determined to “carry a nation” into sobriety. Nevertheless, it’s common to see Carry’s name with the more traditional “-ie” spelling. In my opinion, when a grown person goes to the trouble of changing their name, legally or otherwise, we should respect that. So it’s Carry, C-A-R-R-Y.
Thank goodness for Fran Grace, a religious studied professor at the University of Redlands. This podcast relies heavily on her 2001 biography of the Kansas activist. I bought my copy at the Stockade Museum in Medicine Lodge. The museum’s grounds include the Carry Nation Home, where Carry and David lived together before their divorce. The recently established gift shop also sells postcard reproductions of the massive portrait that hangs in Carry’s home, as well as reproduction Home Defender buttons. The museum attendant who checked me out was a young woman wearing a T-shirt that said “Strong Female Lead.”
Throughout history, men have wielded battle -axes, but they can’t be them. Without exception, battle-axes are women. This archetype may have originated with the Celtic queen Boudica, whose name I am probably mispronouncing. In the early days of the common era, she led an uprising against the Roman Empire. The term evolved to mean a “usually older woman who is sharp-tongued, domineering, or combative,” according to Merriam-Webster. The hatchet-wielding Carry Nation embodied this archetype.
So are actors who have portrayed some of the most memorable female characters in the history of film. Although, Hollywood being what it is and has always been, on-screen battle-axes are rarely older women.
● Think of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the 1979 sci-fi/horror flick Alien.
● Susan Sarandon’s Louise in the 1991 road movie Thelma and Louise
● Uma Thurman’s Bride in 2003’s Kill Bill.
- But for my money, the ultimate movie battle-ax is Charlise Theron’s Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road., which hit theaters in 2015.
- Fury Road is the fourth installment of the Max Max series, which is set in a dystopian, Australian wasteland. The protagonist of all four movies is Max Rockatansky, an ex-cop and current road warrior. But Imperator Furiosa is the character at the center of Fury Road.
- Kidnapped as a child, Furisosa is now the chief commander of Immortan Joe’s war squad. She is, in fact, his only female warrior. Most of the other women under Joe’s dictatorial rule are essentially cattle, kept around only to pump breast milk.
- At the beginning of Max Mad: Fury Road, Furiosa is headed out in her war rig with a tanker of “Mother’s Milk” to trade for other provisions. Instead, she changes course. We soon learn her real mission: to ferry Immortan Joe’s five wives far away, to someplace safe and outside of his grasp. Not unlike upper-class White women in the Victorian era, the five wives live in luxurious captivity in exchange for the performance of their social role: bearing children — and most importantly, sons.
- Like Carry Nation, Furiosa is able to rally both men and women to her cause. Unlike Carry, she’s a woman of few words.
- IMPERATOR FURIOSA: You wanna get through this? Do as I say. Now pick up what you can and run.
- Nevertheless, Furiosa is motivated to protect these women. Her determination to do so is what most reminds me of Carry Nation. Like Carry, she attracts an interesting crew: a defector from the War Boys, a quartet of older women warriors, and Max himself.
- You could almost call them the Home Defenders Army.
- Though I love a strong female character, Mad Max: Fury Road is not really my kind of movie. In what will surely be a blow to my tough-lady image, I have to admit that I can’t stand watching on-screen violence of any kind, even when it’s only implied.
- Watching Fury Road (albeit partially with my hands covering my eyes) convinced me that I’m missing out. There’s something profoundly affecting in watching a woman fully occupy a traditionally masculine role.
Charlize Theron has explored this territory over and over, including in the movie Old Guard, in which she swings a literal battle-ax. For its July 2020 heroes issue, Entertainment Weekly included an interview with Theron about her attraction to fierce characters. She said that as a child, she was drawn to heroic TV figures such as McGuyver and Knight Rider — all men, of course. Alien was released when she was four years old, but she didn’t see Sigourney Weaver’s performance until her early twenties. Theron said, “once I saw her be Ripley, it was like the world opened up, and it just felt limitless.”
Not only are battle-axes like Ripley heroic, they’re complicated and imperfect. In this way, they are far more human than most of the women we see on screen.
Theron goes on to say, “[W]hat we think a female warrior or female hero or female action star should look like is not necessarily the truth. There is something to celebrate in the complexities of our faults and our flaws and all of the things that make us interesting … We can fight and save the world and make a mess … We can just live and breathe and be.”
When I read this, I thought of Carry. There’s something to celebrate in the complexities of her faults and all her flaws, and all of the things that make her interesting. She fought to save the world, and she often made a mess.
At the end of Fury Road, Furiosa takes her fight to Immortan Joe himself. In this decisive scene, she delivers a line I can imagine Carry Nation hurling at a saloon-keeper who ignored her warnings:
IMPERATOR FURIOSA: Remember me?
I can’t stop thinking about whether or not Carry Nation would be good on social media, and (if so), whether she would be worth a follow.
To the first question: Well, obviously. As a formidable crafter of catch phrases, Carry would be a compelling Twitter user and/or memelord. The quick-witted activist used to greet bartenders by saying, “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.” She once called a judge who opposed her “your dishonor,” which is a quality burn.
She also had a unique personal style, which artist Hannah Scott captured in her illustration for this podcast. Carry rejected corsets, feathers and fine fabrics in favor of a more severe, almost androgynous lewk. I can almost visualize her fashion TikTok videos: “Sunday style tip: Wear your purse around your waist to keep your hands free to swing a hatchet or throw a rock.”
But is Carry worth a theoretical follow? At this point, it won’t be any surprise to you that I would be engaged with her across all platforms. We do part ways on many issues, but I love a good iconoclast.
Carry was intensely committed to women’s rights. She believed women should have bodily autonomy at time — and in a place — where that idea was shocking. You’ve gotta love that.
Plus, “hatchetations” would make for extremely compelling live video.
But I can think of at least five reasons you might want to unfollow Carry, or maybe just pause or mute for a while:
● For starters, she had all the worst White feminist flaws. Sure, she didn’t have the same rights as White men, but she was also far more privileged than Black and Indigenous Americans. She managed to escape death at the hands of bar owners, lynch mobs, and the law partly through her enormous charisma. But being a middle-class, respectable White lady made her activism possible in the first place.
● Along the same lines, Carry was kinda the judgiest. She was quick to offer help to those in need, but sometimes that came with a heaping dose of I-know-what’s-good-for-you. Reading about Carry’s good works reminded me a little of a line by writer Anne Lamott: “Sometimes help is the sunny side of control.”
● She was a big on self-denial, too. In contrast, many contemporary activists embrace the pleasure as central to liberation. For an introduction to this concept, see adrienne maree brown’s 2019 book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good.
● Carry was also a big-time street preacher, so if you’re the kind of person who desperately tries to avoid eye contact with the guy giving out free Bibles, then you’re probably not going to have a great experience with Carry Nation’s very long Facebook sermons.
● Lastly, her big issue was Prohibition. All the problems with that approach could easily fill an entire podcast series.
Some might actually be justified in blocking Carry entirely. Cause when you think about it, she would undoubtedly engage in an online harassment campaign against everyone from bartenders to brewery owners.
On the other hand, her feed might be a good source of inspo for the newly (or temporarily) sober.
More and more Americans are trying to stop drinking. Others simply practice sobriety during the first month of the calendar year, a trend called “Dry January.”
Of course, when a consumer door closes, the invisible hand of the market opens a window, right? I’m recording this episode shortly after the new year, when you can find oodles of newly published reviews of booze-free beer, wine and even distilled spirits.
Drinks can carry the nonalcoholic label as long as they contain less than one half of one percent of alcohol by volume. Athletic Brewing Company holds the biggest share of the NA craft beer market. Their sales increased by five hundred percent in 2020. I was more than a little bit skeptical when I ordered a sampler pack. I have to say, Athletic’s “extra dark” and Mexican-style “copper” are shockingly good. Other than the lack of alcohol, they taste exactly like a good craft brew.
Even Wichita-based Koch Industries is in the game. Last year, one of their subsidiaries launched a new business to help reduce the amount of alcohol in nonalcoholic products. According to a story in the Wichita Business Journal, the “technology can guarantee below point zero two percent.”
Many bars and restaurants have expanded their cocktail menus to accommodate sober customers. Two of Wichita’s best cocktail bars serve liquor-free libations, which is how they’re listed on the menu at Cane-a Wine & Cocktails. There, you can sink into a velvet-upholstered sofa and order a “Faux-loma,” Cana’s version of a Paloma mixed without tequila. At Dockum Speakeasy, which occupies an old bank vault in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel, “zero proof” drinks are listed on the menu under the label “preventatives.” These drink recipes skip the booze, but they use other craft cocktail ingredients, such as egg whites and house-made bitters or syrups.
Local bars are beginning to offer substitutes for liquor, too. Nondrinkers can sip Apollo Fermentations kombucha at Central Standard Brewing. The locally produced, fermented drink is even on tap at my favorite dive bar, the legendary Kirby’s Beer Store. I spent large parts of my twenties and thirties at Kirby’s, playing dominoes and euchre and the jukebox, listening to live music and drinking vodka sodas or boxed wine or tap beer.
It was only after reading Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story a few years ago that I realized how immoderate my own drinking habits were. That’s when I learned a single serving of alcohol is so very small. I decided to take a more moderate approach, but never quite succeeded. (This is perhaps the one thing Chrissy Teigen and I have in common.) Alcohol was always around, and like a Swiss army knife, it had so many different functions. I’ve used it to celebrate, reward myself, dance in public, blow off steam, numb my anxiety, and feel a sense of belonging. Here’s how Caroline Knapp puts it:
“I loved the way drink made me feel, and I loved its special power of deflection, its ability to shift my focus away from my own awareness of self and onto something else, something less painful than my own feelings. I loved the sounds of drink: the slide of a cork as it eased out of a wine bottle, the distinct glug-glug of booze pouring into a glass, the clatter of ice cubes in a tumbler. I loved the rituals, the camaraderie of drinking with others, the warming, melting feelings of ease and courage it gave me.”
I downloaded the audiobook of Quit Like a Woman mostly because I was researching a prohibitionist. I thought this would be a perfect way to connect Carry’s story to contemporary feminist critiques of alcohol.
Like Carry Nation before her, Whitaker believes any amount of alcohol is destructive. She does make a good case, one increasingly supported by scientists and government health authorities. A panel of scientists published a report last summer that recommended dropping the maximum number of drinks per day for men to the same level as women: just one. In its recent update, the USDA declined to make this change. But they did clarify something; They mean one or two drinks per day, not seven or fourteen per week, which is how many have interpreted the guidelines. In other words, you’re not supposed to “bank” your daily allotment so you can have two or three of four drinks at a time.
If that’s not depressing enough, already this year scientists have published a couple of studies that warn of the risks of even moderate drinking. Increasingly, researchers believe the best way to balance the risks against the benefits of alcohol is to qualify as a “light drinker” — that’s one to three servings a week. And if you don’t drink already, the consensus is that you shouldn’t start for any reason.
I don’t agree with all of Holly Whitaker’s conclusions, some of which are fairly controversial.. But having said that, I began listening to Quit Like a Woman on January fifth, and I haven’t had a drink since. When I told a friend this, she said,
“I’ve never thought of you as someone with an alcohol problem.” Like the vast majority of heavy drinkers, I don’t meet the clinical criteria for alcohol addiction. But by any standard, I’ve been drinking too much. And Holly Whitaker reminded me of the consequences of that.
It feels premature to declare that I’ve quit drinking for good. I am fond of the Oscar Wilde quip, “moderation in all things, including moderation.” Except (remember) I haven’t been so great at that. I’ll leave it at this: for the first time, quitting entirely seems like something I could do if I want to. And for the first time, it feels like that might not be the worst thing in the world.
A few days after my last drink, I downloaded Sober Time from the Google Play store. The app allows you to upload your own background image to its home screen, where it lists the number of years, months, days, hours, and even seconds of sobriety.
I scrolled through my recent photos and selected the one I thought was most appropriate in this context. That’s why My Sober Time background is an image I captured on my visit to Medicine Lodge: a portrait of foremother Carry A. Nation.
Thanks for listening to Feminist Foremothers, a mama.film podcast. Feminist Foremothers is written and hosted by Emily Christensen, produced by Emily Christensen and Lela Meadow-Connor, and edited by Kylie Brown.
You can find me on Twitter @SchmemilyEmily. Schmemily is spelled S-C-H-M-E-M-I-L-Y. Find additional Feminist Foremothers content and read our show notes on mama.film’s website,
mama-dot-film. If you enjoyed this podcast, please tell your friends, and I hope you’ll join us for our next two episodes. Thanks for listening, and have a smashing day!
More to read, watch and engage with from Feminist Foremothers: Carry Nation
If you aren’t already following Chrissy Teigen on Instagram, you should probably start now. She’s great on Twitter, too. (Even @POTUS is a follower.)
Quit Like a Woman, Holly Whitaker
Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t do it for Holly Whitaker, and in her 2019 book, she suggests the most popular addiction recovery in the world might not be the best fit for women and marginalized people. Whitaker draws from a multitude of existing sources, but the way she puts it together is all her own. Check it out and decide for yourself, or take a shortcut and read “Stop talking about ‘wine o’clock’: Holly Whitaker on how women can stop drinking – and get happy” from Ann Lee in the Guardian.
Killing Us Softlly: Advertising’s Image of Women, Jean Kilbourne
THE original feminist advertising documentary, which Kilbourne revised and re-released several times. See also: her 1999 book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel.
Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp
Knapp’s 1996 memoir is one of the classics of recovery literature.
“Enjoli,” Kristi Coulter
This Medium essay about the challenge of being newly sober in a world saturated with alcohol went viral back in 2016.
Carry Nation: Retelling the Life, Fran Grace
Grace’s 2001 biography of the Temperance activist is a comprehensive (and feminist) account of Carry’s life. You can borrow it from the Wichita Public Library.
Retropolis: Attacking saloons with a hatchet, Carry Nation helped get America into rehab 100 years ago, Petula Dvorak
This Washington Post feature was published on the 100th anniversary of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It’s probably the best short account of Carry’s life, though a couple small details are wrong.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Now that you know a bit more about Carry’s life, see if you agree that Imperator Furiosa embodies her fierce spirit.
Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown. Brown’s 2019 book is the perfect antidote to Carry’s severity.
Culture Shift: What’s behind a decline in drinking worldwide, Sara Miller Llana and Courtney Traub. The Christian Science Monitor, October 3, 2018
“Celebrity Backers Are Making Nonalcoholic Beer a Hot Investment,” Kate Krader Bloomberg, January 13, 2021
“Study finds one small alcoholic drink a day raises risk of irregular heartbeat,” Ian Sample The Guardian, January 13, 2021
“Forget Dry January. We need better nonalcoholic cocktails every month of the year.” M. Carrie Allan, The Washington Post, January 3, 2019
Download the Sober Time app from Google Play or the App Store.
And if Carry Nation (or Holly Whitaker) has convinced you of the evils of alcohol, you can join the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which still exists(!). There are even lots of state-level chapters — but not in Kansas. Members must sign a pledge, which reads: “I hereby solemnly promise, God helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented and malt liquors, including wine beer and hard cider, and to employ all proper means to discourage the use of and traffic in the same.”
As for me, I think I’ll stick to Caroline Knapp and other temperance feminists. —Emily