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On Ed Muskie’s 100th birthday, six things everyone should know

The late Edmund Muskie ’36 was born 100 years ago — March 28, 1914, to be exact.

With help from the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, we celebrate this statesman’s 100th birthday by offering six things everyone should know about our 1936 alumnus and long-serving Maine governor, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state.

Among various Muskie remembrances this month was Muskie Archives director Pat Webber’s appearance on Maine public radio’s Maine Calling for “Remembering Ed Muskie.

Here are six things to remember about Edmund Sixtus Muskie:


1. He was from a Maine family that was sending its first children to college

Edmund Muskie is at back left with his siblings and his mother, Josephine. (Photograph courtesy of the Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

Edmund Muskie is at back left with his siblings and his mother, Josephine. (Photograph courtesy of the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

Ed Muskie was the son of Poland-born Stephen Marciszewski, who changed his name to Muskie when he emigrated to the U.S., and Josephine Cznarnecka, the daughter of a Polish-American family in Buffalo, N.Y.

Muskie’s father, a master tailor who owned a shop in Rumford, was outspoken in his support of Democratic Party ideology even though it conflicted with many of his customers’ Republican beliefs.


2. Politics and the role of government were on his mind at Bates

Edmund Muskie '36 (left) and Charles Taylor '36 in their freshman-year room in Roger Williams Hall. (Photograph courtesy of Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library.

Edmund Muskie ’36 (left) and Charles Taylor ’36 study in their freshman-year room in Roger Williams Hall. Muskie later lived in Parker Hall. (Photograph courtesy of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

Muskie, then known as “Eddie,” lived in Roger Williams Hall and then in Parker Hall. He was president of his class, a standout debater, and graduated cum laude in 1936.

His honors thesis in history and government made two points: (1) the U.S. needed a comprehensive national system of social security, including health, unemployment and old-age insurance, and (2) the U.S. Constitution needed to be amended to give Congress the power to check the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review, since the court had shown its propensity to strike down similar New Deal legislation earlier in the 1930s.

With the Depression a vivid reality, Muskie wrote that “the individual, without aid, cannot protect himself against the inevitable hazards which are his destiny as a member of our modern order.”


3. He revived Maine’s Democratic Party

MuskieCoffin003

Edmund Muskie won the Maine governorship in 1954 thanks to hard campaigning and support from savvy advisers like Frank Coffin ’40 (right). In this 1956 photo, the “Muskie Coffin” sign refers to Muskie’s reelection as governor and Coffin’s being chair of the Maine Democratic State Committee. (Photograph courtesy of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

In 1954, Maine Democrats were looking for a candidate to run for governor, and they recruited Muskie — but only after all other potential candidates declined.

A Democrat hadn’t been governor in nearly 20 years, and only one had been elected in the preceding 40 years.

Muskie was a weak candidate in more ways than one: He was still recovering from the physical and financial effects of a broken back suffered in 1953.

But Muskie won, thanks to hard campaigning, support from savvy advisers like Frank Coffin ’40 (above) and Don Nicoll, and an intimate knowledge of the state gained during his direction of the Office of Price Stabilization. The win gained national attention, and he appeared on a new morning TV show: NBC’s Today.

Although Maine remained a bastion of Republican politics through much of his career, Muskie nevertheless garnered 60 percent or more of the popular vote in each of his four senatorial elections.


4. He was called “Mr. Clean”

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In this early 1960s image, U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie ’36 and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, with an unidentified park ranger, visit Maine’s Cadillac Mountain. (Photograph courtesy of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

Muskie was the grandfather of modern environmental legislation. As a senator, he sponsored both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which fundamentally established our federal government’s duties to preserve and protect the environment.

On the floor of the Senate after Muskie’s death in 1996, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, said that “because of the work of Ed Muskie, our children are growing up in a more healthy and beautiful America.”


5. He was targeted by Nixon’s “dirty tricks” in 1972

Popular memory holds that Muskie’s campaign collapsed after an allegedly teary press conference in New Hamphire. In reality, the reasons were more complex, including a campaign of dirty tricks from President Nixon's Committee for the Reelection of the President. (Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

Popular memory holds that Muskie’s campaign collapsed after he allegedly teared up during a New Hampshire press conference, but the reasons are more complex, including dirty tricks by President Nixon’s Committee for the Reelection of the President. (Photograph courtesy of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

A front-runner for the 1972 presidential nomination, Muskie and his campaign were targeted by Nixon’s Committee for the Reelection of the President and its program of “dirty tricks.” That included the so-called “Canuck Letter” — a forged letter published in the Manchester Union Leader that accused Muskie of making derogatory remarks about Maine’s French-Canadian citizens.

It is thought that Muskie’s campaign floundered in New Hampshire after he reportedly teared up while delivering a withering criticism of the conservative Union Leader, which had published an unscrupulous attack on Muskie’s wife, Jane.

In her 2003 autobiography, Madeleine Albright, who worked for the 1972 Muskie campaign and later as a Senate staffer, said that “today a male politician who cried while defending his wife would probably go up in the polls.”


6. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Edmund Muskie '36 is sworn in as U.S. secretary of state by longtime friend and adviser Frank Coffin '40, a federal judge at the time. Looking on are, from left, President Jimmy Carter; Muskie's daughter Ellen Muskie Allen; and his wife, Jane Muskie.

In May 1980, Edmund Muskie ’36 is sworn in as U.S. secretary of state by his longtime friend and adviser, Frank Coffin ’40, a U.S. circuit judge at the time. Looking on are, from left, President Jimmy Carter; Muskie’s daughter, Ellen Muskie Allen; and his wife, Jane Muskie. (Bill Fitzpatrick/The White House, courtesy Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library)

In 1981, President Jimmy Carter awarded Muskie the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award.

Years later, in his eulogy of Muskie, Carter said that of all the people he’d ever known, Muskie was the most qualified person to serve as president. However, he added, “I don’t believe that many presidents in history have contributed as much to the quality of life of people in our nation and around the world.”

Muskie once said that “there are only two types of politics. They are not radical or reactionary, or conservative and liberal, or even Democratic or Republican. They are only the politics of fear, and the politics of trust.”



2 Responses to “On Ed Muskie’s 100th birthday, six things everyone should know”

  1. James L. Witherell says:

    The “Muskie / Coffin” sign in one of the above photos is because Frank Coffin was running for the U.S. House in 1956. He would soon resign as chairman of the Maine Democratic Party so he could take office in Washington. He was replaced by Bates Professor John C. Donovan, who would publish a 13-page case study of Coffin’s campaign called “Congressional Campaign: Maine Elects a Democrat” (Henry Holt & Company) in 1958 (there’s a copy of it in Ladd Library).

    I also appeared on Maine Public Radio’s “Maine Calling” (and on “Bill Green’s Maine”) with Pat Webber.

    James L. Witherell, M.S. Ed,
    author of “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine” (Tilbury House, 2014)

  2. Judy Marden says:

    and he was a Bates Trustee. Board meetings were always a little more exciting when Ed came to town!

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