Sylvia Pressler


NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Sylvia Pressler, a trailblazing judge whose 1973 ruling opened Little League baseball to girls, has died. She was 75.

Pressler died Monday morning at the family's home in Sparta, according to her husband, David Pressler. She had been battling lymphoma and was scheduled to begin chemotherapy treatments Tuesday, he said.

While serving as a hearing examiner with New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights, Pressler ruled that a 12-year-old northern New Jersey girl should have been allowed to play on a Little League team.

"The institution of Little League is as American as the hot dog and apple pie," Pressler wrote in a sharply worded opinion. "There is no reason why that part of Americana should be withheld from girls."

The ruling was decried by Little League as "conceived in vindictive and prejudicial fashion of the worst kind," but it was upheld on appeal, and New Jersey became the first state to bar sex discrimination in Little League.

By the following year, Little League amended its charter to allow girls and also created a softball division.

Pressler's own career took shape at a time when the legal profession was overwhelmingly male. She earned her law degree from Rutgers in 1960 and was one of the first women in the state to clerk for an Appellate Division judge.

She was appointed to her first judgeship in 1973 and four years later became one of the first women to be assigned to the Appellate Division. In 1997, she became the first woman to be named the division's presiding judge, where she was responsible for keeping the judicial calendar and managing staff besides hearing cases.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Pressler authored an annually updated book on the rules governing New Jersey courts that required her to review "every case, every day," her husband said.

"She worked very hard at it," David Pressler said. "She brought great talent and great energy togeth er."

The Little League case reached Pressler in 1973. Maria Pepe, a 12-year-old Hoboken resident, had played three games for her Little League team the year before but stopped when Little League's national office threatened to revoke the league's charter. The National Organization for Women filed a lawsuit on her behalf.

Pressler said his wife didn't consider the Little League case one of her more difficult decisions, despite its ramifications and the publicity surrounding it.

"It was an important case because of its timing," he said. "But it was perfectly obvious to her that they were completely cockeyed in barring girls if they were physically able."

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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Calling 'em as she sees 'em...

Eight months after she left us, Judge Pressler is remembered by the girls who play baseball today because of the ruling she handed down in 1973.

Girls and women all over the planet who play, umpire, coach, and love baseball, owe Judge Pressler our gratitude. We honor her with every swing of the bat and every flight of the ball!

Sylvia was a dear person full of kindness and warmth. She will surely be missed. Although I haven't seen any of you since Drs. Markham and Tobias retired, I do think of the many times we shared each other's company. May God give you strength in this time of sorrow.My prayers are with you.

Please accept my heart filled condolences on your loss. While I did not know Judge Pressler, she touch my life and that of my daughter who played in little league baseball in 1997. While she was only one of two girls on the boys league, she held her own. Because of Judge Pressler's ruling my daughter was allowed to play. My daughter continues to play softball for her college. Judge Pressler, you were an inspiration to all women. I know you are in Heaven with God, because people like...

May God Bless and keep you in this your time of pain and grief.
Dorothy Wallace

David and Family-Please accept my sincerest condolences on Sylvia's passing. Working with you and Sylvia in the 1950's and 1960's during the many Political Campaigns was a treasure of friendship I will never forget. I truly was in tears upon learning of her passing from my Son Peter. I am in Houston, 82, and still working. Hopefully, we will touch base later.
David Oxman
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We are deeply saddened over this great lost. Please accept our condolences and sympathy. May God give you the strength to carry on and may you find comfort from His Word, the Bible.