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John F. Shelley

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John F. Shelley
35th Mayor of San Francisco
In office
January 8, 1964 – January 8, 1968
Preceded byGeorge Christopher
Succeeded byJoseph Alioto
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 5th district
In office
November 8, 1949 – January 7, 1964
Preceded byRichard J. Welch
Succeeded byPhillip Burton
Member of the California Senate
from the 14th district
In office
January 2, 1939 - January 6, 1947
Preceded byWalter McGovern
Succeeded byGerald J. O'Gara
Personal details
John Francis Shelley

(1905-09-03)September 3, 1905
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedSeptember 1, 1974(1974-09-01) (aged 68)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseGenevieve Giles
EducationUniversity of San Francisco
Military service
Branch/service United States Coast Guard
Battles/warsWorld War II

John Francis Shelley (September 3, 1905 – September 1, 1974) was a U.S. politician. He served as the 35th mayor of San Francisco, from 1964 to 1968, the first Democrat elected to the office in 50 years, and the first in an unbroken line of Democratic mayors that lasts to the present (as of 2024). His term in the United States House of Representatives, immediately prior to his mayoralty (1949-1964), also broke a long streak of Republican tenure (44 years) and began a streak of Democratic representatives from San Francisco (and, coincidentally, the 5th district) that continues to the present (as of 2024).

Shelley earned a law degree from the University of San Francisco in 1932. He served in the United States Coast Guard during World War II and was a member of the California State Senate from 1939 to 1947. He ran an unsuccessful race for the Lieutenant Governor's office against Goodwin Knight in 1946. Shelley would then make his mark as a leader of the California delegation to the 1948 Democratic National Convention, when he helped marshal his state's votes to support a strong civil rights plank. Shelley entered the United States House of Representatives in 1949 and served until 1964, when he stepped down to be inaugurated Mayor of San Francisco after winning the November, 1963 election by nearly a 12-point margin against his nearest opponent, Harold Dobbs (50-38.5%).[1]

Early life, family and education[edit]

John Francis Shelley was the oldest of nine children born to Dennis Shelley and Mary Casey Shelley on September 3, 1905.[2] His father was an immigrant from County Cork, Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom), who became a longshoreman in California.[3] He grew up in the Mission District of San Francisco,[2] then "a tough working-class district," where he "acquired a deep-seated belief that 'working it out instead of fighting it out' was the best policy when disagreement was encountered."[3] He attended Mission High School, where in 1923 he was elected student body president.[3] He studied law at the University of San Francisco, while working as a bakery driver and playing varsity football.[2]

Early union activities[edit]

After graduation (receiving his law degree in 1932), Shelley became a business agent for the Bakery Wagon Drivers Union.[2] In 1936 he became an AFL official, defeating an incumbent to become vice-president of the San Francisco Labor Council.[4] He was the council's representative to the Pacific coast's first industrial development conference aimed at girls and hosted by several Northern California YWCAs.[5]

Shelley was elected president of the council in 1937.[6] Shortly into his term, the council began organizing state agricultural and cannery workers under the AFL.[7] Shelley was one of the leaders of the California People's Legislative Conference, a group supporting Washington state's minimum wage, while the Supreme Court was entertaining a constitutional challenge against it in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish.[8]

Beginning in the spring of 1937, Shelley faced two crises. First, there was growing labor unrest. Second, the Committee for Industrial Organization actively attempted to replace the AFL as bargaining agent for local unionized shops. Strikes and threats of strikes in Northern California followed first the sit-down strike against General Motors and then strikes at several Works Progress Administration projects in the San Francisco Bay area.[9] Shelley was active in settling several labor disputes, but despite his efforts 3,500 members of six unions went on strike against 16 leading San Francisco Hotels on May 1, 1937.[10] On the same day, the AFL purged the CIO from the Alameda Labor Council owing to a jurisdictional dispute between the AFL Longshoremen and the CIO Teamsters,[11] a move that the San Francisco Labor Council strongly disapproved.[12] In the midst of the hotel strike, 2100 elevators and janitors in buildings citywide voted to strike, but the work-stoppage was postponed by the international to continue negotiating.[13] Other unions voted to strike, including the milk wagon drivers.[14]

Relations with the FBI[edit]

Prior to his election as U.S. Congressman, Shelley was included in the FBI's Custodial Detention (DETCOM) files. The FBI's "DETCOM Program" "was concerned with the individuals 'to be given priority arrest in the event of ... an emergency.'" Priority under the Detcom program was given to "all top functionaries, all key figures, all individuals tabbed under the Comsab program", and "any other individual who, though he does not fall in the above groups, should be given priority arrest because of some peculiar circumstances".[15]

A memo by Warren Olney III alerted FBI Director Hoover to the fact that Shelley was recently elected and remained targeted, along with one other California congressman, to be arrested by the FBI as a security risk in case of a Soviet attack.[16] A July 23, 1962 FBI search slip on Shelley is check-marked for "subversive references only" and remains heavily redacted with numerous unreleased documents.

Mayor of San Francisco[edit]

Shelley's term as mayor was filled with challenges, including strikes over discriminatory hiring practices against African-Americans at the Palace Hotel, a public nurse strike in 1966, and a threatened San Francisco Symphony Orchestra strike in 1967. Shelley was mayor during the Summer of Love, a time of radicalism in the Haight-Ashbury and turmoil throughout the city. The Black rage toward "Auto Row" on Van Ness Avenue. Shelley was faced with riots in Bayview-Hunters Point on September 27, 1966, after a white police officer fatally shot a black youth accused of auto theft. Shelley declared a state of emergency in the city for six days. After the riots ended, Shelley took several public steps to improve relations between city government and the African-American community. He appointed the city and county's first African-American supervisor, Terry Francois.

Shelley took an aggressive stance against several prominent anti-development mobilizations during his tenure, including movements in opposition to development at the Yerba Buena Gardens and in the Western Addition. Shelley bowed out of running for a second term in office; his stated reasons were health-related, but it was thought that prominent political forces in the city's establishment wanted a more stringently pro-development mayor in office.


Shelley's son, Kevin Shelley, was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1990 to 1996, a member of the California State Assembly from 1997 to 2003 and served as California Secretary of State from 2003 to 2005. Shelley's daughter, Joan-Marie Shelley, was a French teacher for 30 years at Lincoln High School and Lowell High School in San Francisco Unified School District and carried on the family tradition of labor union leadership, serving as vice-president (1978-1984) and president (1984-1989) of the San Francisco Federation of Teachers and as the founding president (1989-1997) of the United Educators of San Francisco, a merger of the local American Federation of Teachers and local National Education Association unions.[17]


  1. ^ "San Francisco Mayor, 1953". Our Campaigns. n.d. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Suziki, Tami J. (October 31, 2001). "Finding Aid to the John F. 'Jack' Shelley Papers, 1953-1967" (PDF). Online Archive of California. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "John F. Shelley, Labor Leader, Legislator, Coast Mayor, Dies". New York Times. September 2, 1974. p. 18. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  4. ^ "Vanderleur Re-elected as Labor Council Chief". Oakland {California] Tribune. February 1, 1936. p. 3. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Y.W.C.A. Will Open Two-Day Parlay Here". Oakland [California] Tribune. November 6, 1936. p. 5. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  6. ^ "Heads S.F. Labor". The Times [of San Mateo, California]. January 30, 1937. p. 3. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspaper.com.
  7. ^ "State Agricultural Union is Started". Oakland [California] Tribune. February 26, 1937. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  8. ^ "Seattle Mayor to Speak in S.F." Oakland [California] Tribune. March 26, 1937. p. 20. Retrieved July 20, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "WPA Strikers Said Defeated". San Bernardino County [California] Sun. April 7, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "S.F. Hotels Strike Bound; Confusion Grips Patrons as Sympathy Walkouts Maroon Scores; New Guests Rejected". Oakland [California] Tribune. May 2, 1927. p. 1. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspapers.com. Continuation at page 10.
  11. ^ "A.F.L. Forms 'Loyal' Labor Council Here". Oakland [California] Tribune. May 2, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspapers.com. Continuation at page 2.
  12. ^ "Court Refuses to Ban Meeting of Teamsters". Oakland [California] Tribune. May 1, 1937. p. 2. Retrieved July 31, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  13. ^ "Elevator Walkout is Postponed". Oakland [California] Tribune. May 7, 1937. p. 30. Retrieved July 30, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  14. ^ "S.F. Milk wagon drivers vote to strike in 1937. - on Newspapers.com". Oakland [California] Tribune. May 3, 1937. p. 5. Archived from the original on August 20, 2016. Retrieved August 1, 2016 – via newspapers.com.
  15. ^ United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the "Church Committee") (April 23, 1976). "Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities" (PDF). Government Printing Office. p. 441 (quoting an SAC [Special Agent in Charge] letter dated October 19, 1940. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  16. ^ FBI File 100-356062-sub 34, section 11 (Custodial Detention, Field Files), page 21, reproduced in National Security and the FBI Surveillance of Enemy Aliens, a microfilm series by Gale Cengage Learning (Woodbridge, Connecticut: Primary Source Media, c2009), reel 18.
  17. ^ Shelley, Joan-Marie. "Joan-Marie Shelley oral history". California Revealed. U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. Retrieved September 27, 2020.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by United States Representative for the 5th Congressional District of California
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by