Mamie Colvin usually called herself Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin. She 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 these offices.
- Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1918.
- Presidential Elector for New York in 1920.
- U.S. Representative from New York’s 21st District in 1922.
- Delegate to the New York convention to ratify the 21st Amendment in 1933.
Also visit Prohibition Trivia. It’s fun!
Colvin was also very active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In advancing through its ranks, mentors schooled her well. For example, before the U.S. entered World War II, the president of the World WCTU, Ella Boole, made an announcement.
It was to women from 36 countries attending its 16th triennial world meeting. She said 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.“1
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Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement.
Temperance Groups around the World Timeline.
Colvin was an accomplished speaker. But oratorical skills could not substitute for sound and persuasive arguments. So Colvin was completely bested in several debates with Pauline Sabin.
Sabin was founding president of the pro-Repeal Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR). As a result, the president of the national WCTU told their officers not to participate in debates unless only the dry position was offered.
World War II
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.”2
Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin was president of the National WCTU from 1944 to 1953. She used that high visibility position to vigorously oppose drinking.
After the war, Mamie Colvin insisted that the U.S. made too many concessions to the Russians at Yalta. And she said 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.”3
Alcohol a Political Threat
Colvin saw any drinking as a political threat. She insisted that “Drink … is the first step away from religion, and atheists are the most likely to become Communists.”4
Mamie Colvin was distressed that in the previous ten months, 576,996 gallons of vodka was produced in the U.S. “Americans certainly should know enough to let it alone, after learning its effect on our diplomats at Yalta and Potsdam.”5
About 2,000 delegates, most of them over 70 years old, attended the WCTU convention in 1948. Time wrote they “clucked in horror as plump, 65-year-old” Colvin dropped her bombshell. She said “This is a time of overpowering, universal and revolting drunkenness among women of all ages, weights and social positions.” And she said “Among the 3,750,000 chronic alcoholics and problem drinkers in the U.S., more than 680,000 are women.”6
In 1950, Time magazine reported that “the dry-throated voice of Prohibition was being heard again in the land.” Mamie Colvin led an effort in Congress to prohibit the interstate advertising of alcohol by radio or press. Before the Senate’s Interstate Commerce Committee, Colvin voiced another objection. She insisted that it’s false and misleading not to put the label “Poison” on it.
Mamie Colvin learned that the Army was issuing troops in Korea a daily ration of one can of “near beer.” That is, 3.2% alcohol beer. She 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 Colvin, passed their rations on to “drunkards.” She intimated strongly that these souses, would fall easy prey to a cruel enemy.7
Colvin further charged that the Army and the United States Brewers Foundation were engaged in a “brazen” plot. It was to get intoxicants to soldiers. She demanded that everyone in authority in the U.S. keep a clear head. To do so, they should swear off alcohol for the duration of the conflict. She also suggested that Congress investigate the drinking habits of Alaskan Eskimos. Her concern was that the negative effects of alcohol there invited a Russian invasion.
General MacArthur Drugged
Mamie Colvin saw a picture of General MacArthur taking a break during a Korean tour to sip some Champagne. She was irate. “At a time like this, fumed Mrs. Colvin, ‘his mind ought to be clear, rather than drugged with anesthetics'”8
Columbia University’s TV program, “Pulitzer Prize Playhouse,” was sponsored by a 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. He said this.
“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.”
Also, he added,
“there is ample precedent” for college-brewery relations in the fact that “Vassar College was founded and endowed by Matthew Vassar, a Poughkeepsie brewer.”9
Mamie White 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 undinkable – Scotch and bourbon mixed – and Shirley would spit it out in horror.”10
Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin collapsed while speaking at a Temperance Sunday church program in Clearwater, Florida. She died on October 30, 1955.
Resources: Mamie Colvin
By Mamie Colvin
- Speech by Mrs. D. Leigh Colvin, President of New York State WCTU, talks on first year of repeal. New York Heart Valult Material. HVMc73r8. 1618. 1934.
- The 1930s- Prelude to War. Tape 5. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Film and TV Arch, 1968.
- Presidential Address. Evanston, IL: WCTU, 1946.
- Which Way Do You Wish to Meet the Traffic? Evanston, IL: WCTU, 1947.
- Prohibition is the Answer: Annual Address. Evanston, IL: WCTU, 1948.
- The Tide is Turning: Annual Address. Evanston, IL: WCTU, 1950.
- The Ground Between Annual Address. Evanston, IL: WCTU, 1952.
Readings About or Quoting Mamie Colvin
- Mamie White Colvin. The Official Who’s Who among Women. 1935-1936.
- 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.
- Mamie White Colvin. Political Graveyard.
1. W. C. T. U., Time, June 14, 1937.
2. People. Time, July 7, 1942.
3. The Mixture as Before, Aug. 29, 1949.
4. Indianapolis Star, May 9, 1948, p. 1. The lowdown. Time, May 17, 1948.
5. On the go. Time, July 2, 1951.
6. Americana, Oct 4, 1948. Time, October 4, 1948.
7. Manners & Morals: Deadlier Than Bullets. Sept. 25, 1950.
8. Brickbats & Bouquets, Time, Mar. 12, 1951.
9. W.C.T.U. scolds Columbia for beer program, Ogden Standard-Examiner, Nov 9, 1950, p. 22.
10. The lowdown. Time, Sept 2, 1946.