Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Collection

Document Type

Oral History

Publication Date


Interview Number

MOH 033


Frank Morey Coffin was born in Lewiston, Maine on July 11, 1919. His parents were Ruth [Morey] and Herbert Coffin, who divorced when Frank was twelve. Ruth raised Frank alone on Wood St. in Lewiston. She came from an active Democratic family, her father was Mayor of Lewiston from 1907 to 1912, and eventually she became a Democratic State Committeewoman. Frank graduated from the Lewiston public schools, and then went on to Bates College, graduating in 1940. While at Bates he debated under Brooks Quimby, and majored in economics. He then went off to Harvard to continue his education. He started in the Harvard Business School while waiting to be drafted. He served in the Navy Supply Corps, and after discharge returned to Harvard to get a law degree. He graduated in 1947. He then clerked for U.S. District Court Judge John Clifford Jr. before his admittance to the Maine Bar. His law career began in a Lewiston office, and quickly grew. From 1951 to 1954 he served as Corporation Counsel to the City of Lewiston, and in 1953 he joined the law firm of Verrill Dana in Portland, Maine. At that time, he became interested in the Maine Democratic Party. Along with Lewiston area Democratic activists, he worked to reestablish the two-party system in Maine. He became Chairman of the Maine Democratic Party in 1954, and worked to field Democratic candidates for every major office for the 1954 ballot. He also created the first permanent staff position within the Maine Democratic Party. His party building included writing a party platform using public input and surveys. These efforts led to the election of Edmund Muskie as Governor of Maine. In 1956, Coffin stepped down from the chairmanship to run for United States Congress. He was elected, and served from 1957 to 1960, when he stepped down to run for Governor of Maine. He was defeated in that race. After his elected service, Frank was to be appointed Ambassador to Panama by President John Kennedy. When Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson refused to make the appointment because of disagreements he had with Frank during his Congressional career. He was appointed to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris in 1964. In 1965, President Johnson appointed Frank to the United States 1st District Court of Appeals. He became chief judge in 1972, serving in that capacity for eleven years. He became senior member in 1989. Frank Coffin has received numerous awards and accolades, and is a highly regarded figure in Maine law and political circles. In 1942 he got married to a Bates graduate, Ruth Ulrich. They had four children.

Scope and Content Note

Interview covers several topics, including growing up in Lewiston; ethnic relations in Lewiston; family political history; activities in high school and Bates; reasons for attending Bates College; staying on campus during college; professors at Bates; debating under Brooks Quimby; post- graduate education; Navy service; beginning a law career; corporation counsel to the City of Lewiston; appointment to the State Democratic Committee; becoming Chair of the Maine Democratic Party; relationship with Ed Muskie before 1954;organizing the Maine Democratic Party; fielding candidates for 1954; working to get Ed Muskie elected; TV media in 1954; Don Nicoll’s role in the Maine Democratic Party; personal relationship with Ed Muskie; boat trip in July 1955; Muskie’s fishing hobby; reasons for running for Congress in 1956; gaining Franco- American support in 1956; Congressional issues, 1956-1960; trade issues; Kennedy’s coattails; Muskie’s activity in the campaigns; lobster monopoly case; the Organization for Economic Development; plans to become Ambassador to Panama; confrontations with Lyndon Johnson; appointment to the court; Muskie’s efforts in Coffin’s judgeship; and Muskie’s contribution to Maine politics.

Use Restrictions

Copyright Bates College. This transcript is provided for individual Research Purposes Only; for all other uses, including publication, reproduction and quotation beyond fair use, permission must be obtained in writing from: The Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, 70 Campus Avenue, Lewiston, Maine 04240-6018.