Mary Ellen West was born in Dover, North Carolina. She attended Dover High School and graduated in 1939. She was enrolled at Louisburg Junior College for two years before transferring to the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. West graduated in 1943 with a degree in business science and secretarial administration and received her teaching certificate.
West enlisted in the WAVES in 1943 and was sent to Hunter College, New York, for basic training. She was then sent to Indiana University for storekeeper school, where she learned typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping. West was assigned to Whiting Field, Pensacola, Florida, and worked opening an office at a housing project. In 1944 she was sent to Officer’s Candidate School at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She was then assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics in the Publication Division in Washington, D.C., where she worked in publications and procuring. West was discharged in 1946.
After the war West worked temporarily for the Imperial Tobacco Company. She went on to work for a general contractor as a bookkeeper and secretary. In 1968 she began work at the Electrical Equipment Company in Greensboro, North Carolina. West retired from the company in 1985.