By Mike Dunn
As a trained stenographer, Lola’s posture was picture perfect as she sat down, back straight and head high. It was true Lola Jean was employed as a stenographer for a Kingsburg Insurance company, but she wasn’t there because she wanted to be a secretary.
She was raised on her father’s farm southeast of Kingsburg on Zediker Ave. Indeed, Paul and Lillian Ericson had taught their only child the secret to success was to value hard work and never be afraid of a challenge. The Marshal looked over her resume as he muttered, “Born and raised in K i n g s b u r g ; graduated from Kingsburg High School in 1940; an athlete and class e a d e r ” . H e continued, ‘College g r a d u a t e , stenographer.” He began to flip through the file handed to him, “Impressive!You scored very high on your Civil Service exam.” “Well, Miss. Ericson,” Deputy Marshal Tracey continued, “you are well qualified for a secretarial position, but we are recruiting for a Deputy U.S. Marshal. That means you will have to carry a weapon and make arrests of men and women. We’ve never hired a woman for a job like this. In fact, some of the men are concerned about doing so now.” the officer explained.
Deputy Marshal Tracey stood, drew his service weapon and carefully placed it on the desk along with a variety of cleaning materials. “A Civil Service test is one thing, but real life is altogether different. Show me how you would disassemble, clean and reassemble this weapon.” She scooted her chair close to the desk as she demonstrated all three tasks with military precision. Once again, Deputy Marshal Tracey was impressed.
The Marshal leaned back in his chair, as he carefully sized up the candidate before him. He couldn’t help but wonder why this young lady, pretty enough to be featured on a war-time pin up poster, would be interested in becoming a Deputy U.S. Marshal. “Tell me, Miss Ericson, why would you want a job like this?” Lola Jean didn’t have to think long about her answer. She knew every American shared a common obligation to serve however they could during World War II. Even her 56 year old father had registered for the draft and was willing to serve if needed. Her reply came with calm and conviction, “I have always wanted to do something in this war to make up for the fact that I am an only child and have no brothers to serve. I can handle a rifle and a pistol and I realized a few weeks ago, I have the qualifications to serve as a woman deputy marshal.”
At the conclusion of that interview Miss Lola Jean E r i c s o n , Kingsburg High Class of 1940, became the first female Deputy U.S. Marshal ever assigned to Fresno County. It was such a milestone, a special swearing in ceremony was held in Los Angeles and officiated by U.S. Commissioner F. C. Lerrigo and Robert Clark, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of California. “The swearing-in was like a wonderful dream” declared Lola Jean. Indeed it was a remarkable moment for Kingsburg and the U.S. Marshal’s service as well. News of her ground breaking a p p o i n t m e n t appeared in more than 50 newspapers from Hawaii to New Jersey and from San Diego to Seattle.
Miss Ericson served as Deputy U.S. Marshal until December she resigned to marry Kingsburg resident William H. “Bill” Ward, the great grandson of W.W. Ward. There would be other female Deputy U.S. Marshals to follow in her footsteps, but Lola Jean Ericson will always have the honor of being the first to have cracked that glass ceiling.
Lola and Bill Ward are the parents of Gregory Ward and Gail Jackson. Lola Jean Ericson-Ward died in 1983 at the age of 58 and is buried in the K i n g s b u r g Cemetery.