Biography and History

John Joseph Brendan Shea (1924-1978), lawyer and Democratic reform movement leader, was born in Boston, the son of Joseph B. and Catherine Hurley Shea. He attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School, earning degrees in 1944 and 1947 respectively. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1948 and joined the law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, where he later became partner. In 1951 Shea married Felice Klau, a fellow attorney with whom he had three children: Steven, Katherine and Andrew.

A pioneer in the Democratic reform movement, he founded the Lexington Democratic Club in 1949, an insurgent organization designed as a protest against the regular or recognized political club within the Ninth Assembly District in Manhattan. His liberal viewpoint attracted him to Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign in 1952. He was asked to join several other active volunteers from the 1952 campaign to organize the 1956 Stevenson for President Committee (New York State). Shea served as executive chairman and later founded the National Committee to Draft Stevenson in 1960.

Through out his life, Shea remained active in the Democratic party and liberal causes serving as a member of the New York State Democratic Committee, 1958-1975; delegate to the New York State Democratic Convention, 1954-1968; co-chairman of the New York State Citizens for McCarthy, 1968; Justice Department hearing officer for conscientious objectors, 1961-1968; trustee and executive vice chairman of the Eleanor Roosevelt Foundation; 1965-1972; and as a board member of the National Committee for an Effective Congress. He also founded the Committee for Democratic Voters in 1959, a forerunner of the New Democratic Coalition.

Source: From the finding aid for MC126

  • John J.B. Shea Papers on Adlai E. Stevenson. 1952-1956 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC126

    The papers of John J.B. Shea document his activities as executive chairman of the 1956 Stevenson for President Committee (New York State). The committee was comprised of Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, and Independents devoted to promoting Stevenson's candidacy and election to the office of President of the United States. The New York committee organized local Stevenson for President Committees throughout New York State, and provided guidance and overall supervision to these local groups.