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Women’s Christian Temperance Union Hatchet

Protesters used prayers, hymns—and sometimes axes—to call attention to alcoholism

In the 19th century, alcoholism wreaked havoc on families and communities. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union strove to abolish the liquor trade, reduce consumption of alcohol, and secure pledges of abstinence. In 1873, at the courthouse in Washington, Ohio, women celebrated the closing of two saloons with songs and prayers, but then, according to contemporary accounts, “axes were placed in the hands of the women who had suffered most, and swinging through the air, they came down with ringing blows, bursting in the heads of the casks, and flooding the gutters of the street.” 

WCTU Hatchet, around 1910

slideshow with 2 slides
date made
c. 1910
associated date
Though distancing themselves from Carry A. Nation’s “hatchetations,” the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and other organizations could hardly ignore the hatchet as a symbol of teetotaling activism and popular engagement. Somewhat at odds with this message, this wooden WCTU hatchet’s head is decorated with the emblem of a box turtle, an icon of dryly unexcitable endurance.
Women's History
See more items in
Political and Military History: Political History, Womens History/Reform Movements Collection
Government, Politics, and Reform
American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith
American Democracy
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Credit Line
Norman Hedglin
Data Source
National Museum of American History
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Object Name
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall: 5 in x 12 in x 1/2 in; 12.7 cm x 30.48 cm x 1.27 cm
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