Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie Colvin)

Mamie White Colvin, who usually called herself Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin, was born in Westview, Ohio, on June 12, 1883. She was the daughter of Rev. Levi White and Mary Belle (Hudelson) White. Her father had been elected to the New York State Assembly in 1851.

Even as a child, Mamie White championed prohibition and won oratorical awards in promoting it. She married prohibition leader D. Leigh Colvin on September 19, 1906.

Mamie Colvin was the Prohibition Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1918, its candidate for Presidential Elector for New York in 1920, its candidate for U.S. Representative from New York's 21st District in 1922, and its candidate for delegate to the New York convention to ratify the 21st Amendment in 1933.

In advancing through the ranks of the WCTU, Mamie Colvin was well-mentored in the beliefs of the organization. For example, before the U.S. entered World War II, the president of the World WCTU announced to women from 36 countries attending its 16th triennial world meeting that drinking by women was " one of the great 'causes of maternal death,' praised Germany's Hitler because he gave the beverage concession at last summer's Olympic Village to the Deutscher Frauenbund der Abstinenz (Nazi W. C. T. U.), is a total abstainer, [and] supports restaurants which serve no beer."

During the early years of World War II, the U.S. experienced several serious defeats. While president of the New York State WCTU, Mamie Colvin blamed the military reverses entirely on "U.S. intemperance."

Although she was an accomplished speaker, oratorical skills could not substitute for sound and persuasive arguments. Consequently, Colvin was so completely bested in several debates with Pauline Sabin of the pro-Repeal Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) that the president of the national WCTU instructed WCTU officers not to participate in debates unless only the dry position were offered.

Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin was president of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) from 1944 to 1953 and used that high visibility position to vigorously oppose alcoholic beverage advertising and consumption.

After the war, Mamie Colvin insisted that the U.S. made too many concessions to the Russians at Yalta and that alcohol was the reason:

American representatives wondered... how the Russians could consume such large quantities of vodka and keep sober, when it had an intoxicating effect upon the Americans. But we have learned since that Stalin and the Soviets outwit the representatives of other nations by plying them with vodka while the Russians drink water from vodka bottles.

Colvin saw consuming any alcoholic beverage as a political threat, insisting that
"Drink ... is the first step away from religion, and atheists are the most likely to become Communists."

In 1950, Time magazine reported that "the dry-throated voice of Prohibition was being heard again in the land" as Mamie Colvin led an effort in Congress to prohibit the interstate advertising of alcoholic beverages by radio or press. Before the Senate's Interstate Commerce Committee, Colvin not only objected to the interstate advertising of alcohol, but insisted that "It is false and misleading not to put the label 'Poison' on it."

Upon learning that the Army was issuing troops in Korea a daily ration of one can of "near beer" (3.2% alcohol beer), Mamie Colvin reacted "almost as if G.I.s were being taught the opium habit." One-half to two-thirds of the troops in the Army, said President Colvin, passed their rations on to "drunkards." She intimated strongly that these lamentable souses, fairly gurgling with borrowed suds, would fall easy prey to a cruel enemy.

Colvin further charged that the Army and the United States Brewers Foundation were engaged in a "brazen" plot to get intoxicants to soldiers, and demanded that everybody in authority in the U.S. keep a clear head by swearing off alcohol for the duration of the conflict. She also suggested that Congress investigate the drinking habits of Alaskan Eskimos, on the ground that the corrosive effect of alcohol in the North fairly invited a Russian invasion.

When Mamie Colvin saw a picture in the newspaper of General MacArthur taking a break during a Korean tour to sip some Champagne, she became irate. "At a time like this, fumed Mrs. Colvin, 'his mind ought to be clear, rather than drugged with anesthetics.'"

Upon learning that Columbia University's TV program, "Pulitzer Prize Playhouse," was being sponsored by Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, Mamie Colvin asserted that it was really "a scheme of education for alcoholism" and that the university should not accept the sponsorship. The Dean of Columbia University disagreed, saying

"It is raising the standards of entertainment in American homes. Any development which contributes to the improvement of home life is wholesome, because the home is the bulwark of democracy." Furthermore, "there is ample precedent" for college-brewery relations in the fact that "Vassar College was founded and endowed by Matthew Vassar, a Poughkeepsie brewer."

President Colvin was always alert to the threat of alcohol portrayals in entertainment. Thus, the thought of "Shirley Temple taking a snort in her next picture was too much for W.C.T.U. President Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin to bear; she protested to the studio that youth everywhere might be inspired to do likewise. But the studio set her at ease; the drink would be something unthinkable - Scotch and bourbon mixed - and Shirley would spit it out in horror."

Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin collapsed while speaking at a Temperance Sunday church program in Clearwater, Florida, and died on October 30, 1955.

Readings About or Quoting Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie Colvin):

  • Mamie White Colvin. American Women: The Official Who's Who among the Women of the Nation. 1935-1936.
  • New York times. CLUBWOMEN OPPOSE HOME RULE FOR CITY; Hisses Greet Speaker Against It, but Resolution Is Voted Down. FEDERATION IN CONVENTION Loud Applause Follows Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin's Defense of Prohibition. New York Times, May 7, 1921, p. 7.
  • Time. Deadlier than bullets. Time, September 25, 1950. Mamie Colvin objected to the issuance of 3.2% or "near beer" to American troops in Korea.
  • Time. People. Time, July 7, 1942. Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin blamed military reverses in WWII to American intemperance.
  • Time. Americana, Oct 4, 1948. Time, October 4, 1948. "Some 2,000 delegates of the Women's Christian Temperance Union—most of them more than 70 years old—attended its convention in Portland, Ore., clucked in horror as plump, 65-year-old Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin, its perennial president, reported: 'This is a time of overpowering, universal and revolting drunkenness among women of all ages, weights and social positions . . . Among the 3,750,000 chronic alcoholics and problem drinkers in the U.S., more than 680,000 are women.'"
  • Time. The lowdown. Time, May 17, 1948. Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin tied drinking alcoholic beverage with increasing the possibility of becoming a communist.
  • Time. The lowdown. Time, September 2, 1946. Mamie Colvin protested the possibility that Shirley Temple might be portrayed consuming any alcoholic beverage in a movie.
  • Time. On the go. Time, July 2, 1951. "Distressed to learn that in the last ten months 576,996 gallons of vodka had been turned out in the U.S., Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin. president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union,† sounded the alarm: 'Americans certainly should know enough to let it alone, after learning its effect on our diplomats at Yalta and Potsdam.'"
  • † A misnomer. The W.C.T.U. insists not on temperance, but on abstinence unqualified. (This note was in the original.)
  • Mamie White Colvin. Political Graveyard.

Resources by Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie Colvin)

  • Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie White Colvin). Speech by Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin, President of New York State Woman's Christian Temperance Union, talks on first year of repeal. New York Heart Valult Material. HVMc73r8. 1618. 1934.
  • Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie White Colvin). The 1930s- Prelude to War. Tape 5. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Film and Television Archive, 1968.
  • Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie White Colvin). Presidential Address. Evanston, IL: Woman's Christian Union, 1946.
  • Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie White Colvin). Which Way Do You Wish to Meet the Traffic? Evanston, IL: Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1947.
  • Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie White Colvin). Prohibition is the Answer: Annual Address. Evanston, IL: Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1948.
  • Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie White Colvin). The Tide is Turning: Annual Address. Evanston, IL: Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1950.
  • Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin (Mamie White Colvin). The Ground Between Annual Address. Evanston, IL: Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1952.

Filed Under: Biography