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John Dempsey Records

Identifier: RG005_034

Scope and Content

Gov. Dempsey's correspondence, reading files, subject files, agency files, National Governors' Conference files, New England Governors' Conference files, speeches, official statements, articles, and press releases.


  • Creation: 1955-1971
  • Creation: 1961-1971

Language of Materials

The records are in English.

Restrictions on Access

These records are stored at an off-site facility and therefore may not be available on a same-day basis.

See the Rules and Procedures for Researchers Using Archival Records and Secured Collections policy.

Biographical Note

Born: January 3, 1915, Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland.

College: None.

Political Party: Democrat.

Offices: Mayor of Putnam, Conn., 1947-1961; Lt. Governor of Connecticut, 1959-1961; Governor of Connecticut, 1961-1971.

Died: July 16, 1989, Killingly, Connecticut.

When John Dempsey became Connecticut's governor in 1961 he was the first person to hold this position since the early colonial period who had been born in Europe. Dempsey also began a 30-year period in which the former Puritan colony had only Catholic governors in office. Dempsey was born in Ireland and came to the United States with his family when he was a boy. His father worked in a Putnam textile mill and later Dempsey also worked for a local mill before opening an automobile agency in the community. He married Mary Frey in 1940 and they had four children.

Dempsey held his first local office in Putnam in 1936. In 1947 he was elected mayor and held this position until he became governor in 1961. During these years he also served in the State Legislature (1949-1955), as Governor Ribicoff's executive secretary (1955-1959); and as lieutenant governor (1959-1961). When Ribicoff resigned to become a member of President Kennedy's cabinet, Dempsey was elevated to the position of governor.

On entering the governor's office Dempsey immediately faced a budget deficit that required him to seek an increase in taxes. He was able to have the General Assembly approve funding for more new roads, to expand state institutions, to assist schools, and to provide grants for urban renewal. When the 1962 elections came John Bailey, chairman of the Democratic Party, did not see Dempsey as a strong candidate for reelection, but he always believed that it was best to go with an incumbent for the office. Dempsey won this election with such a large margin that he was in a much more influential position as he began his new term. He also won reelection in 1966. During these years Connecticut was reapportioned into six Congressional Districts, and the State Legislature was reapportioned into 36 districts. When Republican Barry Goldwater was soundly defeated for President in 1964, Connecticut's Republican legislators saw this as a rejection by the public of conservative government. In 1965 and 1967 both parties competed with each other to see which one could develop and fund more state programs. The economy made it possible to do this with little or no new taxation. The courts were improved, new highways were built, the General Fund was created, interest free loans were made available to college students, and the Commission of Higher Education, Department of community Affairs, and the Department of Corrections were all created. Also during these years Connecticut created a new constitution replacing the out-dated one of 1818.

The economy of both Connecticut and the nation began to slow down in 1969 just when many new agencies and programs were being funded. This made it necessary for Dempsey to seek higher taxes, but the General Assembly refused to cooperate with him. A special session was needed to deal with the government's budget problems and it was necessary to increase the sales, cigarette, liquor and corporate taxes. At the same time, with the concurrence of some Democrats, the Assembly created its Legislative Management Committee. This dealt a blow to the influence over legislation that party chairmen such as John Bailey enjoyed.

Dempsey became upset that his own party lacked unity in the General Assembly and that the economy prevented a level of funding that he had enjoyed in the past. He honored a promise that he had made to his family and announced in early 1970 his plan to retire from office in 1971. He had been governor longer than anyone in Connecticut since 1827. One political writer referred to the Dempsey government of the 1960's as a -Decade of Decency. Dempsey enjoyed 18 years of retirement in Putnam and later Killingly. When he died in 1989 he was buried in the cemetery of St. Mary's Church in Putnam. The hospital at the University of Connecticut Medical Center in Farmington is named in his honor, as is the state's Regional Center in Pomfret. The house in Putnam where he grew up and the one he lived in when he became governor still stand. Both are privately owned.


507.75 cubic feet


Gov. Dempsey's correspondence, reading files, subject files, agency files, National Governors' Conference files, New England Governors' Conference files, speeches, official statements, articles, and press releases.


Series 1. Correspondence, 1961-1971, 206 feet.

Series 2. Reading Files, 1960-1970, 18 feet.

Copies of outgoing letters arranged chronologically.

Series 3. Subject Files, 1960-1971, 89 feet.

Known as special files. Includes some material from earlier governors' files.

Series 4. Agency Files, 1960-1971, 71 feet.

Series 5. Civil Defense Files, 1961-70, 5 feet.

Plans, correspondence, publications, clippings, etc.

Unarranged. No separate container listing.

Series 6. New Haven Rail Road and Connecticut Transportation Authority Files, 1955-1970, 15 feet.

Correspondence, reports, publications, clippings, largely pertaining to the N.H.R.R., its financial difficulties and merger with the Pennsylvania Rail Road, and related matters.

Largely unarranged. No separate container listing.

Series 7. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1959-1968, 6.5 feet.

Unarranged. No separate container listing.

Series 8. National Governors' Conference, 1958-1970, 8.5 feet.


Series 9. New England Governors' Conference, 6 feet.


Series 10. Correspondence Concerning Proposed or Pending Legislation, 1961-1969, 3.5 feet

These are unscientifically selected samples; approximately five times this amount was discarded in 1974. Retained flies pertain to dogs (vivisection), 1961-63; beer and liquor store hours, 1967; optometry, 1963; state aid fore private schools, 1967, and parochial schools, 1969; state budget and taxes, 1969 (including tea bag campaign); miscellaneous 1969 bills by subject.

No separate container listing.

Series 11. Speeches with related materials:

Main files, 1961-1970, 14 feet. Alphabetical by name of group addressed.

Large type copies, 1961-1969, 5 feet. Unarranged.

Background material for speeches, 1961-1970, 1 foot. Alphabetical by subject.

Large type copies, marked for reading, 1961-1970, 10 volumes. Alphabetical by name of group addressed.

Series 12. Official Statements, 1956-1970, 19 feet.

Alphabetical by subject.

Series 13. Articles and Statements by Gov. Dempsey, 1961-1970, 10 inches.

Series 14. Press Releases, 1962-1970, 5 feet.


Series 15. Press Department Files, 1955-1970, 36 feet.

Includes press clippings, releases, documents and a little correspondence. No separate container listings.

Arranged as follows:

1955-1965, by subject

1966-1968, by subject

1969, by subject

1970, by subject

Constitutional Convention, 1965

Articles about Gov. Dempsey

General Assembly material, 1957-1968

Material on teen-age drinking

Photographs (in labeled envelopes) See separate listing.

Campaign material, 1962-1966

Scrapbook of clippings, 1966

Series 16. Highway Safety Files, 1961-1967, 1 foot.

Mostly reference material by subject or title.

No separate container listing.

Series 17. John Dempsey records as Lieutenant Governor, 1958-1960, 1 foot.

Fragmentary and unarranged.

No separate container listing.

Series 18. John Dempsey records as Executive Aide to Gov. Ribicoff and as Mayor of Putnam, 1955-1957, 1 foot.

Mostly alphabetical by correspondent.

No separate container listing.

Series 19. Robert J. Beckwith records, Aide to Gov. Dempsey, 1961-1965, 1 foot.

By subject or correspondent.

No separate container listing.

Series 20. Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, 2 feet.

No separate container listing.

(See also Subject Files, Box A-253)

Related Material



Congressional Quarterly's Guide to United States Elections. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1994 [CSL call number GIRS Ref JK1967 .C662 1994].
Glashan, Roy R. American Governors and Gubernatorial Elections, 1775-1975. Stillwater, Minn.: Croixside Press, 1975 [CSL call number JK2447 .G53 1975].
Janick, Herbert F. A Diverse People: Connecticut, 1914 to the Present. Chester, Conn.: Pequot Press, c1975 [CSL call number Hist Ref Conn Doc St22eacs se v. 5].
Lieberman, Joseph. The Legacy, Connecticut Politics, 1930-1980. Hartford, Conn.: Spoonwood Press, 1981 [CSL call number JK3395 .L53 1981].
Sobel, Robert and John Raimo. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978. Westport, Conn.: Meckler Books, 1978 [CSL call number GIRS Ref E176 .B573].
Van Dusen, Albert E. Connecticut. New York: Random House, 1961 [CSL call number Hist Ref F94 .V3].
RG 005:034, Office of the Governor: John Dempsey (1961-1971)
Inventory of Records
Finding aid prepared by Connecticut State Library Staff.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Connecticut State Library Repository