LUCY LAWFUL: The unusual beat of San Diego’s first policewoman has La Jolla ties
“This is Lucy’s place,” says Laurnie Jackman Durisoe as she ascends the stairs to a beautiful oceanfront, three-bedroom, two-bath cottage on the grounds of the hotel she co-owns with her brother and mother, the Pantai Inn at 1003 Coast Blvd. “We lovingly restored it about five years ago.”
In 1917, Lucy Jeardeau became the first female San Diego police officer. At a time when women weren’t legally allowed to vote in U.S. elections, Lucy was given a badge and full arrest powers. (She wasn’t issued a gun, but was extended the services of the nearby lifeguard station should she ever require extra force.)
Being on the forefront of women’s rights wasn’t why the San Diego City Council (then the Common Council) created Jeardeau’s position, however.
The City’s first female cop was hired because World War I had just broken out, flooding La Jolla with sex-crazed trainees from the 40th Division National Guard at nearby Camp Kearny (now Marine Corps Air Station Miramar). Someone of Jeardeau’s gender was sought primarily to cover up and arrest all the indecently exposed female sunbathers polluting the trainees with their immorality.
Bathing Suit Enforcement Act
In 1917, female swimsuits were on the verge of roaring with the upcoming ’20s. Most were still what we would consider today a sundress with matching stockings. The more daring might opt for a one-piece with a long top that covered shorts (still with the matching stockings). But the two-piece swimsuit had already been introduced four years earlier (by Portland, Oregon designer Carl Jantzen) and was already appearing in popular silent films of the day. It was only a matter of time.
Ordinance 7056 (the Bathing Suit Enforcement Act) attempted to nip all this in the bud. It made it illegal for any female over age 10 to appear in public wearing any swimsuit without “a coat, cloak or other garment covering the entire person except the head, hands and feet.” This ordinance was superseded by another allowing the wrap to extend from the shoulders to knees, but a new second section then outlawed “having on a bathing suit to sit or lie on that portion of the beach or parcel of land known as ‘The Cove’ in La Jolla.”
Violators were subject to up to 25 days in the hoosgow and a $25 fine ($520 today). Or both.
A petition obtained by the Light, from the board of the La Jolla Woman’s Club and signed by Ellen Browning Scripps herself, complained to the Common Council that enforcement of this vital new ordinance was “impossible with the present police service in La Jolla.” (Some things never change, huh?)
It specifically demanded “an alert efficient and watchful policewoman” — with “woman” underlined. “Our Village community needs more the watchful eye to note and prevent careless or immodest behavior, than it does the rigid arm of the law to punish offenders,” the petition read. Jeardeau, in particular, was recommended for what was deemed her “unusual physical strength and fearlessness.”
Few details about Lucy’s life have survived the ages. We know that she patrolled The Cove, as per her Common Council agreement, for $75 a month until the 40th Division evacuated Camp Kearny a year later, then she served for an additional year on the reserve force. But she left no children to pass any stories down. Indeed, her closest living relation — 72-year-old Mary Jeardeau of Fennimore, Wisconsin — never even heard of her. (Lucy’s father was the brother of Mary’s great-great grandfather.)
“She did not recognize the name Lucy, but my brother said he had seen it on the Internet before,” says Steven Jeardeau, Mary’s son, who spoke to his mother following the Light’s inquiry. “So some of us knew that Lucy had existed, but not much more than that. She is kind of forgotten.” Even the San Diego Police Museum, which features a Lucy mannequin, misspells her last name “Jeardue.”
What we do know comes mostly from census data and other public documents: Lucile A. Jeardeau was born the youngest of 11 or 12 children (one may have died) to Paul and Sara Jane Jeardeau on Jan. 4, 1869 in Platteville, Wisconsin. She died at age 83 in Redlands, California on July 26, 1952, where she had lived for seven months, and her cremains were shipped back to Platteville and interred at the Greenwood Cemetery.
We also know that she originally worked as a nurse, and that she married a man named Samuel Pearson in Grant County, Wisconsin on July 26, 1893. (Pearson died sometime before the 1920 Census, but we’re not sure whether, when Lucy moved to La Jolla sometime after 1905, she was a widow or a divorcee trying to escape what would then have been considered a tarnished past.)
Lucy had other La Jolla residences (including the so-called “Lampshade House” at 524 Coast Blvd.) but the only one used while she was Officer Jeardeau still stands and rents for $295-$775 a night. “We put a lot of work into restoring these historic cottages,” Jackman Durisoe says. “They could have been like the red houses (the Red Rest and Red Roost adjacent to La Jolla Cove Hotel & Suites) but that didn’t happen.”
The Pantai Inn — a Balinese-themed patchwork of some of the earliest remaining area residences currently rated the No. 1 San Diego hotel by TripAdvisor — was opened in 1946 as the Shell Beach Apartment-Motel by Jackman Durisoe’s grandfather, Max Heimburge, the German immigrant who also brought us the Universal Boot Shop and La Jolla Cove Hotel & Suites.
Built two blocks from The Cove in 1914 and purchased by Heimburge’s hotel in 1967, Lucy’s cottage was originally named Winnebago. “All beach cottages had their own names back then,” says Jackman Durisoe, who believes the name was conferred by Lucy to honor a tribe of Ho-Chunk American Indians living in Wisconsin. (Before 1958, the term did not refer to a motor home.)
It is from Winnebago that Lucy sprang into battle every morning against the forces of Cove immorality in her brown jacket, conservative skirt and six-pointed star. “Can’t you just see her walking out of her front door down these stairs right now?” Jackman Durisoe asks.
Believe it or not, another of the Pantai’s nine restored cottages is Sea Cliff, the former home of Elizabeth Mannix. It faces Coast Boulevard today, looking much as it did when built as the Mannix summer home in 1902. That the Mannix family could have spawned such a wild child is counterintuitive. Elizabeth’s parents were such good Catholics, they hosted the very first Masses in La Jolla — inside Sea Cliff.
“They held confession in the living-room closet,” says Scanlon Moore. (That first congregation went on to found Mary, Star of the Sea in 1906.)
“Here was this rebellious teenager creating scandals in La Jolla and yet the Church is having its services in her family’s house!” says Jackman Durisoe, Scanlon Moore’s longtime friend, who accompanies her around the property during this interview. “Can you imagine?”
(Scanlon Moore replies: “Elizabeth’s mother, my great-grandmother, was a very practical woman. She told her daughters that it was Elizabeth’s decision to not wear her stockings and that she was old enough to make that decision herself.”) Elizabeth died from cancer around 1967, according to Scanlon Moore. Heimburge’s hotel purchased Sea Cliff in 1972.
So basically, in 1917, two La Jolla women, each of whom achieved local celebrity status due to battling swimsuit morals, lived half a block from one another. In fact, whenever Lucy sprang out her door to moralize The Cove, she passed the Mannix front porch. “Oh, you know Lucy and Elizabeth had to know each other,” Jackman Durisoe says. “Don’t you wonder what was said when they passed in the street?”
And while we’re on the subject of historical coincidences, both Steven Jeardeau and his older brother, Greg, are law enforcement officers today. (Steven is a deputy in the Grant County Sheriff’s Office — whose jurisdiction includes Platteville — and Greg is a police officer in Rochester, Minnesota.)
“It’s all kind of neat to me, because I work in law enforcement,” Steven says, promising that this article will be the talk of the next Jeardeau family reunion in about a year. “I’ve told some relatives about the Lucy mannequin and they’re excited, too. If I get out to San Diego, I’ll have to stop and pose with it.” (If he makes it, the museum will have corrected the misspelling of Lucy’s last name by then, according to its director, Steve Willard.)
“You know what?” Steven says. “I’ll definitely plan a trip.”