Remembering Alice Chandler, “Orange County’s First Female Deputy”

By Ray Grimes, Executive Director of the Orange County Sheriff’s Museum & Education Center

Alice Chandler, OCSD Special Deputy and close friend, passed away peacefully on June 10th at age 94 (she would have turned 95 on June 19th). Alice led an amazing life, becoming an Orange County Special Deputy Sheriff in 1949 at Sheriff Musick’s request to patrol the Irvine Ranch where she and her family lived and worked, fending off poachers at Peters Lake on the property. Alice was recently visited by several active and retired deputies and police officers who have embraced her going back to the time when she mailed a letter to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, describing an incident when she was driven to the local shopping center in a Leisure World courtesy van and witnessed an apparently able-bodied man park his car in a disabled persons-only space. In 2008, Alice at almost age 80, became annoyed and told the driver the error of his ways. The man sassed her back, so Alice called the sheriff’s dispatcher and three patrol cars showed up to give the errant driver a citation. The spicy Chandler remarked to one young deputy that she might have been able to solve the problem herself, because she had a sheriff’s badge, revolver, and ID card. The deputies didn’t understand the context of Alice’s disclosure but smiled, thinking that this was the end of the story. Alice’s follow-up letter to Sheriff Hutchens resulted in the Sheriff and PIO Jim Amormino inviting her to meet with them and labeling her as “the first female Orange County Deputy Sheriff” (though she actually wasn’t).

Their Orange County story begins with the family living in a shack on the Irvine Ranch at Peters Lake in the 1940s where her father worked as a gardener. Alice Chandler and her mother were most fortunate to secure the job of caretakers for the 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch where they lived among the beauty and quiet of this rural setting. At age 16, Alice wanted to learn how to ride horses. Her mother bought her a horse then set out on a mission to locate people who could teach her riding skills. Alice, her mother, and Alice’s sisters Carol and Beverly, spent three happy years, from 1949 to around 1952, living at Peters Lake in the Irvine Ranch, where Alice was taught to ride by the ranch hands. Alice came from a large family. In addition to her two sisters, she had five surviving brothers who lived elsewhere (presumably with their estranged father).

Alice’s mother was a “city girl” with a fourth-grade education but possessed amazing insight, with a keen understanding of people, sharp business sense and a will to make things happen for her girls. Alice left school at the eighth-grade level as she perceived school as unfriendly and harsh. Alice’s mother then home-schooled the Chandler girls. Her mother allowed teenage Alice to wear blue jeans, which was not acceptable for young ladies at that time. Alice’s mother was skilled with a Kodak Brownie camera and captured many special moments in her girls’ lives on the ranch, in black and white. One later color photo was taken of Alice in 1971 at the Mission Viejo Ranch with a ranch hand during cattle branding time. The classic black and white photo of Alice sitting on a fence, wearing her deputy badge and revolver was taken by her mother with that simple Kodak Brownie camera.

Alice and her mother were self-sufficient. The family enjoyed the outdoors, raising horses and dogs, and flying airplanes. Alice and Beverly bought a two-place Cessna airplane and later a four-place Cessna. Alice was a well-respected local dog breeder, having supplied one of the Rin Tin Tin dogs to movie producer Lee Duncan.

The Irvine Ranch had its problems though, as it was an attractive target for poachers who hunted animals and fished from Peters Lake on the property, which now belonged to Myford Plum Irvine (the only son of James Irvine III). A couple of young deputy sheriffs regularly appeared at the ranch, ostensibly to make sure that there was no crime in progress, though more likely to visit with Alice. On one day in 1949, two deputy sheriffs, doubling as Irvine Company guards, informed Alice that James A. Musick, the county’s popular sheriff, wished to visit with her at his office in the county seat of Santa Ana. Musick introduced himself to Chandler, then age 21, and informed her that he had too little manpower to keep an eye out for trespassers at Peters Lake, located on the huge Irvine Ranch, some 10 miles east of Orange. Alice resided nearby with her mother and sisters, and the sheriff inquired if she would be able to monitor goings-on in the lake vicinity. Chandler responded that she had no training as a guard (or certainly a deputy sheriff) but she did have a horse she could use to patrol the lake property – which wealthy landowner Myford Plum Irvine regarded as his private hunting and fishing refuge. The sheriff told her that this was a serious responsibility, that she would always be on-call, that she could summon help from Santa Ana by riding to the nearest telephone, that no wages would be involved, but he would furnish her with a badge just like any other deputy sheriff had, plus an identification card. She would have to purchase her own revolver, and the sheriff gave her full police powers, even though trouble was rare in the sparsely inhabited Irvine Company ranch property. Alice’s mother purchased a 6-inch barrel Smith & Wesson .32 revolver for Alice, so she could perform her volunteer job as a deputy sheriff. The 6-inch barrel proved to be a problem when mounting and dismounting her horse, so she traded the unwieldy handgun for an S&W .32 caliber revolver with a 4¼-inch barrel.

Thus, Alice Chandler became a deputy in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (prior to it becoming the Orange County Sheriff’s Department), founded in 1889. Some say that she was the Sheriff’s Department’s first female deputy, although she had never received law enforcement schooling and held only the sheriff’s verbal authorization to serve as a “Special Deputy.” Sheriff Musick appointed Alice Chandler as a “Special Deputy” at the behest of the Irvine Company which needed additional security on their lands in the area of Chandler’s house. This status meant that even though she was technically not part of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, while acting on behalf of the Irvine Company, she had full deputy legal powers within the direct scope of her duties (limited to the Irvine Company property).

In fact, Alice wasn’t the “first Orange County Sheriff’s Department female deputy,” as the department had a jail matron, Nona Lacy – wife of jailer “Budge” Lacy, Jr. – going back to Spurgeon Square Jail (circa 1900). A few decades later, in 1928, Sheriff Sam Jernigan’s wife acted as jail matron. After that, in 1935, Augusta Day received a non-matron deputy sheriff’s badge (#73) from Sheriff Logan Jackson, giving her increased authority at Bradford Avenue School (Placentia School District) as nurse and attendance officer. Later on, Margaret Wangrud (aka Marge Woodard), who was hired as an OCSD secretary in 1941, soon took on a variety of jobs within the department, promoting to Deputy Sheriff II in 1957 and retiring as an Investigator II in 1973. Some of the confusion and speculation about what constituted a “female deputy” stemmed from the casual method of appointments of those days, along with a lack of formalized certification and training. Jail matrons wore OCSD badges but weren’t actually “deputies.” The school officer appointment was more of a truant officer than a deputy sheriff, and the career path of Marge Woodard was that of filling in for Sheriff’s Department administrative duties where needed, eventually transitioning into a law enforcement career as a sworn deputy sheriff. None of this detracts from their dedication and service but serves to explain the unclear process of becoming “the first female deputy sheriff.” Female deputies with more sophisticated training and credentials were still in the future.

Alice Chandler kept a lookout around Irvine Lake for three years but never had occasion to draw her gun, solve a crime, summon help, or stop a trespasser. “I was just at the house, and we watched to see if somebody came; we could see cars down the dirt road,” she later recalled. “I rode my horse around, with my badge and my gun once in a while. Believe it or not, the trespassing stopped. I have a feeling it wasn’t just me, but it may have been that the trespassers said, “We got a deputy sheriff over there.” She found that shouting worked just as well as pulling her Smith & Wesson revolver.

Chandler never again saw Sheriff Musick following their initial meeting. She gave up her deputy duties when her family relocated some distance away upon departing from the Irvine Ranch. She spent much of her time riding horses, learning rodeo riding skills, raising horses and dogs, and participating in cattle roundups. Alice obtained her California Class B truck driving license, so she could drive the ranch truck. While living at Chandler Ranch, Alice decided that she wanted to learn to fly an airplane. Alice’s mother found the money and arranged for both Alice and Beverly to earn their pilot licenses, with Alice going further by earning a flight instructor license and a hot air balloon pilot license (which she never exercised). The good times at Chandler Ranch ended when their property was foreclosed upon after a bankruptcy. In preparing to leave Chandler Ranch, Alice’s personal possessions were stored in a children’s toy chest and packed away. Her badge, handgun and ID card remained forgotten in that trunk for decades.

She had pretty much forgotten about the badge, gun, and ID card, still packed away in the trunk. In all those years, nobody had ever asked her to bring the items out of storage, but now Alice thought it was time. As it happened, Orange County’s newly selected Sheriff Sandra Hutchens was just taking office, so Chandler sat down and wrote a note to Hutchens – one female peace officer to another. Hutchens soon invited Chandler to attend a swearing-in ceremony.

Knowing that Alice had never married and had no surviving family, when interviewed by the Sheriff’s Museum some years ago Alice was asked if she was by chance related to the prominent Los Angeles Dorothy (cultural leader) and Norman Chandler (L.A. Times Editor) family? Alice responded with a wince and said that she believed that they were distant relatives but had nothing much to do with “those people.”

Alice Chandler proudly considered the Orange County Sheriff’s Department her “family.” Sheriff Hutchens attested: “She’ll always be a part of the department.” Alice remained independent and feisty as ever, celebrating her 94th birthday hosted by her many Orange County law enforcement friends. Perhaps the most interesting part of a similar birthday celebration for Alice around 5 years earlier was that after the lunch party, the group drove east on Chapman Avenue and upon approaching Orange Park Acres, turned south onto Chandler Ranch Road, the site of the former Chandler Ranch, where Alice and her family spent many happy years on their horse ranch. Alice hadn’t returned to Chandler Ranch since leaving it decades ago and expressed surprise at the substantial changes in the landscape, where homes on hills and terraces replaced what was once flat pastureland.

Alice recently lived in a small townhome in Laguna Woods, where she delighted at straightening out neighbors who annoyed her. I recall visiting Alice a few years ago in Laguna Woods before she voluntarily relocated to an assisted living home. As an OCSD Reserve Deputy Sheriff, my patrol partner and I were working an OCSD Elder Abuse follow-up detail that day. We decided to call Alice to ask if she’d like some deputy sheriff visitors. Alice was delighted and welcomed us, proudly showing us personal photo albums and books. When preparing to leave, we asked Alice if she would like to follow us to the patrol car for a photo. She replied by asking if we would handcuff her and march her out to the patrol car so her neighbors could all see her. We were quick to reply, “No way,” as the last thing we needed was to be in the newspapers with a headline saying, “Sheriff’s Elder Abuse Detail Abuses Elder.” Even through her later years, Alice had a unique sense of humor, a sharp wit, and an amazing memory of distant facts from her life. Alice remains an important part of Orange County history and a very special friend of the Sheriff’s Department. She will be missed.

Ray Grimes would like to thank the Sheriff’s Museum and Orange County Register columnist David Whiting for sharing excerpts from museum archives and David’s online article, “Pioneering deputy was cowgirl, model, pilot”.

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