Carry Nation Debated Woman Suffrage at Seward

Carry A. Nation’s anti-saloon activities in Nebraska in December 1901 and early 1902 took her not only to Lincoln and Omaha but to a number of smaller towns, where she was a star attraction. In Humboldt, reported the Valentine Democrat on January 2, 1902, “A large crowd of people was on the streets all day, eager to get a glimpse of the joint smasher.” Her appearance three months later in Valentine prompted the Democrat to report on April 3, “There were not seats enough to go ’round and many were compelled to stand.”

Mrs. Nation’s visit to Fremont was reported in the Hastings Tribune of March 14, 1902, under the headline “Joint Smashing Justified.” While in Hastings she spoke at the Kerr Opera House and toured local saloons, where she reportedly disapproved of barroom art as well as liquor. Most of her public presentations attacked saloons and those who patronized them, but at least one of her debates-in Seward on April 15, 1902-was on woman suffrage. Seward’s Blue Valley Blade on April 16 reported the results of the contest between Mrs. Nation and Judge C. E. Holland of Seward:

“The debate on the suffrage question at the opera house last evening . . . drew out a large and appreciative audience. Mrs. Nation is a motherly looking woman of middle age, and while not a ready debater, announced that she was in the fight for blood and declared it ‘no foolin’ for her. She opened the debate and for 45 minutes quoted from the Bible to sustain her position. She seems to have a very poor opinion of the stronger sex.

“Judge Holland answered, taking the position that women are men’s superiors and to give them the ballot would bring them on the same level with men, and thereby spoil all the sanctity and sweetness of the home. Here the Judge paid a most beautiful tribute to women, and said ‘It is love that makes life worth the living.'” Judge Holland was armed with typed quotations from the Bible to support his position but his female opponent “used [them] against him in the last round. The Judge was the acme of courtesy towards his opponent, but gave her many a sharp thrust. Mrs. Nation contends that men are to blame for all the evil in the land and that things will not go right until women are allowed to vote.

“M. D. Carey was chairman and wielded the hatchet for a gavel. Mrs. Nation in her windup gave the judge what she called a ‘dressing down,’ which evoked shouts of laughter from the audience. He gracefully took his medicine.

“At the close Mrs. Nation asked those who thought that the Judge had won the debate to rise to their feet, but not one in the vast audience thought that way, and then she asked all those who thought that she had won the day should stand up, but only a few arose. So the great question is still unsettled in the minds of the people.”


Carry A. Nation with her trademark hatchet in 1910. From the New York Times Photo Archive.


C. E. Holland of Seward. From Memorial and Biographical Record …. Butler, Polk, Seward, York and Fillmore Counties, Nebraska 2(Chicago, 1899).


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