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Edmund S. Muskie oral history collection

Identifier: MOH

Scope and Content Note

The Edmund S. Muskie oral history collection contains recorded spoken memories from a broad range of individuals who knew, affected or were affected by Senator Edmund S. Muskie in the course of his life and career. Narrators include Senator Muskie's childhood friends and acquaintances, college contemporaries, Maine legislators, political associates and competitors, reporters and editors, campaign supporters, gubernatorial and Senate office staff, Senate colleagues and committee staff members, public agency officials, lobbyists, State Department officials, foreign policy specialists, law practice associates, public policy advocates, citizens associated with Senator Muskie in a variety of programs, and personal friends. Their opinions and perpsectives range from adulation to criticism, providing a rich variety of insights and recollections.

Each interview is documented with an audio recording, a transcript and a summary sheet, containing biographical information about the interviewee and an abstract of the interview. Funding for the creation, processing, and online publication of the Muskie Oral History Collection was generously provided by the Edmund S. Muskie Foundation.


  • 1985 - 2007
  • Majority of material found within 1998 - 2003

Access Restrictions

Some interviews may be restricted pending approval of the interviewee. See the Archives staff for additional information.

Use Restrictions

The collection is the physical property of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library. Bates College holds literary rights only for material created by College personnel working on official behalf of the College, or for material which was given to the College with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication or other purposes that exceed fair use.

Historical Note


The Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Project (November 1997-August 2007) was based at the Edmund S. Muskie Archives, Bates College. Interviews were conducted by Donald E. Nicoll, director of the Project and a former long-time aide to Senator Muskie; Andrea L'Hommedieu, project assistant and professional librarian; and college students, primarily from Bates College. Additionally, some donated interviews conducted by outside researchers were added to the collection. Funding for this project, including the creation, processing, and online publication of the oral histories, was provided by the Edmund S. Muskie Foundation.


Edmund Sixtus Muskie was born March 28, 1914, in Rumford, Oxford County, Maine, the second of six children and the son and grandson of Polish immigrants. Muskie attended public schools in Rumford, graduating valedictorian from Stephens High School in 1932. In 1936 he graduated cum laude from Bates College with a major in history and government. During his undergraduate years, he was president of his class, vice president and secretary-treasurer of the Student Council, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the nationally acclaimed Debating Council. After Cornell University Law School, he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1939 and the Maine bar in 1940 and began practicing law in Waterville, Maine. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

Muskie began his political career in the Maine House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 1946, 1948 and 1950. A Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican state, he was able to rise to the position of minority floor leader during his second term. Shortly after he began his third term, he resigned from the House to become state director of the federal Office of Price Stabilization, a position he held until July 1952. He represented Maine on the Democratic National Committee from 1952 to1956. He also ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Waterville in 1947 and was a member and secretary of the Waterville Board of Zoning Adjustment from 1948 to 1955 and the city's solicitor in 1954.

During this period Muskie and other activists led a drive to build the Democratic party into a force that would challenge the Republicans, who had dominated state politics since the Civil War. The breakthrough came in 1954, when Muskie was elected governor of Maine, defeating for the first time in state history an incumbent. Although the Republican opposition controlled the legislature, he used his considerable negotiating skills and his growing popularity to secure enactment of a number of sweeping measures, including a major reorganization of state government. Muskie's success paid political dividends as well: by the next decade, Maine had become a two-party state.

In 1958 Muskie challenged incumbent U.S. senator Frederick Payne and again was victorious. He served in the U.S. Senate for 21 years, winning overwhelming reelection in 1964, 1970 and 1976. During his tenure he served on the Banking and Currency, Foreign Relations, Government Operations (later Governmental Affairs), and Environment and Public Works committees, the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging. In the 1970s he was the founder and first chair of the Senate Committee on the Budget and co-chaired with Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller the National Study Commission on Water Pollution. In the 1970s, he chaired the Legislative Review Committee of the Democratic Policy Committee and was a member of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In these positions, he authored landmark federal environmental protection laws, including the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, oversaw efforts to strengthen cooperation between federal, state and local government agencies, and worked to provide stricter congressional oversight of the federal budget-writing process.

In the late 1960s Muskie emerged as a national political figure. The 1968 Democratic president nominee, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, selected Muskie as his vice presidential running mate. Although the ticket was defeated, his work that fall was credited with overcoming the deep divisions in the party over the Vietnam War and closing a wide gap with Republican candidates Richard M. Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. Four years later he made a strong bid for the 1972 Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Muskie resigned from the U.S. Senate May 7, 1980, to become the 58th U.S. secretary of state, a position he held until January 20, 1981. During that brief tenure, he supervised the sensitive negotiations that eventually led to the release of 52 U.S. embassy personnel who were taken hostage in Iran on November 4, 1979.

After leaving public office, Muskie joined a law firm in Washington, D.C., and remained active in a number of organizations that dealt with foreign relations and the environment. He was president of the Center for National Policy, set up after the presidential election of 1980 to discuss and develop foreign policy alternatives for Democratic party leaders. He chaired the Nestle Infant Formula Audit Commission, which was established to review complaints that Nestle Corporation had violated World Health Organization guidelines on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes in undeveloped countries. He was one of three members of the President's Special Review Board (Tower Commission), which had been appointed by President Ronald Reagan to investigate secret U.S. arms sales to Iran and the diversion of proceeds from those sales to rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government. In 1989 he was chair of the Maine Commission on Legal Needs, which the Maine Bar Foundation set up to recommend ways to provide low-income Maine citizens with equal access to legal assistance.

In 1964, he initiated establishment of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park at the site of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's island summer estate on the border between Maine and New Brunswick. Dedicated to preserving and promoting Roosevelt's legacy, the park is overseen by a joint U.S.-Canadian commission with the chair held alternately by a representative from each country. Until his death in 1996, Muskie presided over the commission when the United States had the chair. The commission met quarterly on Campobello Island or in cities in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

He was the author of the autobiographical Journeys, published in 1972, received over thirty honorary degrees from college and universities throughout the country, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981. From 1957 to 1966 and again from 1970 to 1988 Muskie served on the Bates College Board of Trustees.

Muskie married Jane Frances Gray of Waterville in 1948. The Muskies had five children - Stephen (born 1949), Ellen (1950), Melinda (1956), Martha (1958) and Edmund S., Jr. (1961).

Edmund S. Muskie died March 26, 1996. Jane Gray Muskie passed away December 25, 2004. Both are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Works consulted

Asbell, Bernard. The Senate Nobody Knows. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981; reprint of Garden City, New York: Doubleday, [1978].

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989. Alexandria, Virginia: CQ Staff Directories, Inc., 1997, and

Flippen, J. Brooks. Nixon and the Environment. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, [2000].

Hansen, Donald C, and Theo Lipman, Jr. Muskie. New York: Norton, [1971].

Muskie, Edmund S. Journeys. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.

Nevin, David. Muskie. New York: Random House, [1972].

Ross, James Garner. "As Maine Goes... The Early Years of Edmund Muskie." Honors thesis; Department of English, Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, 1986.

1936 Mirror [yearbook]. Bates College Archives.


425 interviews

Language of Materials



This collection contains oral history interviews with a broad range of individuals who knew, affected or were affected by Senator Edmund S. Muskie in the course of his life and career. Interviews were conducted and collected by staff of the Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Project (1997-2007), which was funded by the Edmund S. Muskie Foundation and based at the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College (Lewiston, Me.)

Organization and Arrangement

Each interview has a unique identifying number, assigned to it in the order in which it was either received or created.

Acquisition and Custody Information

Accession No.: None.

Location of Originals

[Description]Original interviews were recorded on audio cassette.

Alternative Formats Available

Listening copies on CD are available for in-building use only at the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College.

Digital preservation master WAV files are available for staff use only at the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College.

Transcripts and some audio files are also available online.

General Physical Description note

ca. 425 interviews

Guide to the Edmund S. Muskie oral history collection, 1985-2007
Edited Full Draft
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in: English
Edition statement

Repository Details

Part of the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library Repository

70 Campus Avenue
Lewiston Maine 04240 United States of America
207-755-5911 (Fax)