February 28th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1951, the the News-Journal in Mansfield, Ohio carried a story about fifty-nine year old grandmother Dagmar Schmidt who was holding the office of constable in Seal Beach as an interim appointment since the death of her husband. The “gray-haired widow” was looking for another American woman holding the same position.

“Until I find another lady constable, I’ll go on calling myself the only one in action,” said Mrs. Schmidt, who had a gift for quotable turns of phrases.

The job consisted mostly of serving papers and handling correspondence. Mrs. Schmidt worked out of her home, carried a badge, but wasn’t issued a firearm. The position paid $125 a month.

Why is this local Seal Beach story running in an Ohio newspaper on February 28th? It’s due to a journalistic practice from an earlier newspaper era when the news cycles, especially for human interest stories, had a much longer tail. The story that ran in the News-Journal was not written by anyone working for that paper — it was a syndicated United Press story that ran in at least twenty-five newspapers spread across twelve states, starting in late November, 1950.

In fact, Dagmar Schmidt actually received her constable appointment on September 13, 1950, and was covered locally by the Los Angeles Times and the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram. The UP story that was reprinted across the country appears to be based on a more detailed article by L.A. Times correspondent in which Dagmar expressed her hope to keep the job and her belief that she was the only woman constable in the country. (A letter to the Times on November 14 refuted this claim). 

Left out of the UP story was that Dagmar and her husband, Hans, had moved to Seal Beach from Pasadena to open a grocery store on Main Street in 1929. The store collapsed to rubble during the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, but the Schmidts stayed in town. Dagmar and Hans were very active in the Anaheim Landing American Legion throughout the 30s and the 40s. Dagmar also volunteered for the Seal Beach Woman’s Club and the local PTA.

Curse anyone who convinced newspaper publishers that grainy microfilm scanning was a good substitute for keeping an actual physical archive.

Curse those who convinced publishers that grainy microfilm scanning was a good substitute for keeping an actual physical archive of newspaper photos and stories!

 

Another fund tidbit left out of the UP story is that among the letters of congratulation for her appointment in September was a letter from singing cowboy Roy Rogers that included a Roy Rogers badge for her 8-month grandson, Gary Ordway.

On January 10th, 1951, the Orange County Supervisors extended Dagmar Schmidt’s appointment for the full four years of her deceased husband term.

Eight months later, on September 14th, 1951, the Battle Creek Enquirer in Michigan became the last newspaper to run the UP story about Dagmar without mentioning that she had been appointed over a year earlier. 

Sometimes the currents in current events run a little bit slow.

– Michael Dobkins

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