July 26th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1921, Mrs. Frances Talbert, age 20, wept as she plead guilty to assaulting Mrs. Carrie A. Collinge and was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail. The charge had been reduced from assault with a deadly weapon to simple assault. 

Frances Talbert had been employed by Mrs. Coolinge, who ran a nursery at 137 14th Street in Seal Beach. Around midnight on June 3rd, Mrs. Collinge noticed that Frances was not in her room. Later, when she checked again to see if Frances had returned, someone threw a couch cover over her head and tried to smother her and then dragged her to the next room to strike her four times with a broom.

Mrs. Collinge, who thought she was being attacked by a man, fell to the floor and pretended to be unconscious. When attack ended, she removed the cover from her head, and the only person in the room was Frances, holding her 2 1/2 year old daughter and a broom handle in the other. She denied having made the attack or having seen anyone else.

Carrie Collinge seemed more bewildered and curious about the assault than angry. The newspapers cover her account of the assault, but there are no reports of her response to the sentence or details about any interactions with Frances after the incident. 

There are so many unanswered questions nearly 100 years later, made all the more confusing by discrepancies in the four articles about Frances Talbert’s case in the Santa Ana Register. In one story, the assault happened in May and Frances was arrested two weeks after the story’s publication! This same story gives the daughter’s name as Catherine, but later article call her Lillian. Whatever her name was, she was a real sweetheart and charmed the staff and female prisoners at the jail where she stayed with mother Francis. 

Another story rather carelessly hints as a possible motive for the assault rumors that Carrie Collinge had just recently made Frances the major beneficiary of her will, but then quickly admits to not being able to verify the rumor and that the authorities disclaimed any knowledge of a will.

What we do know is that Frances Talbert gave no explanation for the attack, and that she was released five days early on August 23 for good behavior. Was she covering for a late night male guest and given a lenient sentence because the police and judges knew she was paying for a crime she did not commit? It’s pure speculation at this point, and we’re even further from the truth today than Santa Ana Register reporters were in 1921.

The 1920 census lists a Francis (with an “i”) Talbert, a 19-year old single white female with no schooling, working as a resident nurse for widowed Carrie Coolidge’s nursery in Los Angeles. One of the inmates (the census-taker’s word, not mine) at the nursery is a five month year old girl named Kathrine Talbert with a mother born in Louisiana and a father born in the United States. The census alone makes no overt connection between Francis and Kathrine beyond the listing a shared last name and that they live at the same address.

Here’s another interesting tidbit from the census. The page lists Kathrine Talbert as black. This is a subjective judgement, but it appears to me that the box for race had “W” originally and then was smudgingly erased to be replaced with a “B” for black.

It’s easy to imagine a unwed teenage mother leaving Louisiana to have her child away from her home town. That would have been scandalous enough, but an African-American father would have been unthinkable in 1921. Again, it’s important to stress that this is all speculation, and the truth about the beating and Kathrine’s (or Lillian’s) parentage has move out of living memory. 

Carrie A. Collinge died in Santa Barbara in 1938 at the age of 75. I could find no trace of Frances or Kathrine (or Catherine or Lillian) after Frances is released from jail. 

– Michael Dobkins

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