Mary Ellen Twombly was born in Hyannis, Massachusetts on July 16, 1942 to Ruth (Nadeau) and Jim Twombly. Her grandfather, Guy Twombly, was one of the earliest Democrats in Waldo County, and was a staunch supporter of Ed Muskie. Her parents were also Democrats. She was educated in Maine schools, attending the University of Maine at Orono from 1960-1962 and from 1964-1966; she earned a degree in journalism. After college, Mary Ellen worked for the Rockland Courier Gazette, before being hired by Ben Dorsky to work for the Maine State Federated Labor Council. She then went to work for the Washington, DC newspapers covering labor issues.
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L'Hommedieu, Andrea, "Twombly, Mary Ellen oral history interview" (2000). Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Collection. 394.