Maryon Pittman Allen (1925-2018) was a journalist who was appointed in 1978 by Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace to fill the seat of her deceased husband, U.S. Senator James B. Allen. Her brief career as a senator was marked by her adherence to her husband’s conservative political positions, and she was defeated in a tumultuous election for the seat in 1978. After her stint in the U.S. Congress, Pittman continued her work as a journalist for the Washington Post for many years.
Maryon Pittman Allen Allen was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on November 30, 1925, to John D. and Tellie Chism Pittman. Her family relocated the following year to Birmingham, Jefferson County, and her father opened a tractor dealership. Pittman graduated from the Birmingham public schools and entered the University of Alabama in 1944 to study journalism. She left college in 1947 before graduating after her marriage to Joshua Mullins on October 17, 1946. The couple would have three children and divorce in 1959. Pittman then took a job as an insurance agent but she soon found work as the editor for the women’s section in several Birmingham-area weeklies. This work led to a position as a staff writer for the Birmingham News. In May 1964, Pittman interviewed former Alabama state legislator and then-Lieutenant Governor James Browning Allen, a widower with two children. The two were instantly attracted to one another and married four months later.
James B. and Maryon Pittman Allen In 1968, U.S. senator Lister Hill announced his retirement from the Senate; James Allen ran successfully as the Democratic Party candidate for the seat and then won in the general election. Allen was appointed to the Judiciary Committee and pursued a conservative agenda that included opposition to the establishment of the consumer protection agency, taxpayer financing for federal campaigns, and the return of the Panama Canal. During this time, Maryon Allen continued her journalism career and began writing a weekly syndicated column, “Reflections of a News Hen,” which garnered her awards for best original column by the Alabama Press Association.
Allen was re-elected in 1974 to another six-year term. Upon the unexpected death of her husband on June 1, 1978, Maryon Allen was appointed by Gov. Wallace to serve in his place until a special election to fill the seat was held in the fall. In Washington, Allen served on both the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the Judiciary committees. Her most notable vote, ironically, was to support proposed legislation that would allow states that had ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have advanced civil rights for women, to reverse ratification if they wished. The measure was defeated. In general, Allen attempted to carry out her husband’s legislative priorities and even presided over the Senate on several occasions.
Gov. Wallace called the special election for November of that year, and Maryon Allen announced her intention to run for the seat in her own right. Common knowledge among political insiders had pointed to a Wallace run for James Allen’s seat in the fall election. However, as the election neared, Wallace declined to enter the race. Allen looked poised to take the seat when her campaign and public image were severely damaged by an interview with reporter Sally Quinn of the Washington Post. In the interview, Quinn printed responses by Allen that appeared critical of George and Lurleen Wallace , thus offending many Alabama voters. Supporters also questioned her judgment in granting an interview with a newspaper considered to have a liberal bias by many conservatives. Although Allen emerged from the special election with 44 percent of the vote, she did not receive a majority and was forced into a runoff with state senator Donald Stewart, who then defeated her by more than 120,000 votes.
Allen emerged from the election drained physically and emotionally and missed almost half of the Senate votes in her remaining time. After leaving the Senate, Allen remained in Washington and took a job, in an act not without irony, as a columnist for the Washington Post. In her later years, she returned to Birmingham and worked in public relations for an auction house and ran a restoration and design company, Maryon Allen Company. She died in Birmingham on July 25, 2018.
Note: This entry was adapted with permission from Alabama United States Senators by Elbert L. Watson (Huntsville, Ala: Strode Publishers, 1982).