“Life for a Pint”


Of all the excesses brought by Prohibition, the story of Etta Mae Miller must be at the top of the list. Etta Mae Miller, a 48-year-old mother of ten, lived in Michigan, a state with some of the toughest anti-alcohol laws during Prohibition. One 1927 law was one of those “three strikes and your out” sort of laws, whereby the third felony landed you in prison for life. Well, possessing a pint of alcohol was a felony in Michigan, and you know where this story is going.

Etta Mae was the first woman sentenced to life in prison under this law. She was found guilty for having two pints of gin in her home. (Police could get a warrant to search a private home if they thought they smelled liquor nearby.) With 2 previous felonies for alcohol possession on her record, she was sentenced to life in prison. Her husband, by the way, was also in jail for liquor-related offenses, but not under a life sentence. (I could not find a photo of either Mr. or Mrs. Miller, and these are not the Miller children, just a picture of 1920s children I found on the Internet–excuse the liberty.)

Public outcry against the “Life for a Pint” law was strong, and Michigan’s Governor Fred W. Green was not pleased to find 10 new orphans placed in the state’s care. The state supreme court reversed the decision and Mrs. Miller went home to her brood. 

Published in: on January 22, 2017 at 3:33 pm  Comments (5)  
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  1. Interesting. I wonder how long she was jailed before she was let out. And who watched the kids. And why and who started an out cry in her defense. People might have thought, serves her right, for getting caught. Or they had it in for her. Or that she was small fish, unimportant. You never know how people are going to think.
    I am glad that she was able to go home to her family. I am sure they were glad to have her home.
    I wonder how long before her husband came home. Maybe she was selling liquor to feed her kids?

    • Newspapers in Detroit from those months would tell the details, but I haven’t gone into the story in that much detail. I was pursuing the outcome only because I read somewhere about her being sentenced to life in prison, and that was all. I couldn’t believe that would stick (and was afraid it might have!), so I dug around a little online to find the outcome. Thank heavens!
      More sobering is the realization that things like that go on today, with accused people who can’t afford to post bail sent to jai for months awaiting their trial–losing their jobs, causing havoc with families–and then, as often happens, having the charges dismissed or being found innocent.

  2. Interesting. I wonder how the laws differed in the states. Like Janice (above), every time I read one of your interesting posts, a lot of questions pop into my head, because your topics are interesting. Puts me into research mode. Over this past weekend, my husband and I went to see the movie Live by Night – it was about the mafia corruption during Prohibition. So that gets me to thinking about how many people were coerced or forced into working with alcohol because of that element. Thank you for sharing this info.

    • I hadn’t heard about that movie, and, because I’m partial to movies about the Twenties, I looked it up. But the trailer was so violent, I don’t think I’d like it. I am well aware that it was a violent era, but I’m pretty squeamish about seeing all that in Tecnhicolor . . .

  3. You are right about that going on today. We have a friend who was arrested, put in jail, just because he had the same name as a criminal. And his name was very common. He is an extremely honest and upright person.

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