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Women Umpires Take the Field – in the 1940s

While Hap Dumont was ahead of his time in many ways, perhaps one of his most impactful promotions involved hiring women as umpires for the National Baseball Congress National Tournament. In 1943, Dumont hired Lorraine Heinisch to umpire one game. It was the same year hundreds of women tried out for the inaugural season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but women having any role in men’s baseball was unprecedented. 

NBC World Series umpire coordinator Jon Browar spent over 30 years as a collegiate umpire, and currently is the NCAA Division II national coordinator of umpires. He talked about the decision by Hap Dumont and the NBC to include female umpires.

“I would put [hiring women umpires in the 1940’s] on par with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball,” said Browar, “That was way, way ahead of the time. I’m sure there were plenty of naysayers.” 

Heinisch was promoted and referred to as a “wump” short for woman umpire. The move received press coverage from both local and national outlets. 

Later in 1967, Bernice Gera, worked as a third base umpire in the opening game of the NBC Tournament. Gera’s appearance was promoted ahead of the tournament. Gera would go on to become the first woman to umpire a professional baseball game in 1972, following a lengthy legal battle. 

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why women can’t be baseball umpires,” said Gera during her legal fight, “You don’t have to be an athlete to be an umpire. All you need is to know baseball, have good eyesight and good judgement. There are a lot of women who can fill that bill. I’m certain we will some day have women umpiring in the majors – maybe sooner than you think.”

In 1988, the NBC pursued Pam Postema, a minor league triple-A umpire to work some of the tournament’s games. That same year Postema became the first woman to umpire a Major League Baseball Spring Training game and the last until Ria Cortesio in 2007. 

Last year, Jen Pawol became the first woman to umpire at the Triple A level in 34 years, and in 2024 umpired MLB Spring Training games. Pawol was just one of two women umpiring in the minor leagues in 2023, along with Isabella Robb, while no women have umpired a regular-season MLB game. Women continue to be underrepresented in umpire schools and on the field, but Browar said there are several female umpires in the minor league pipeline. 

“You’re always going to have the group of people who feel that it’s not a place for women – I think that mindset is changing,” Browar said. “I think it’s a matter of time, I think if you line up people, you’re going to get a woman who’s going to get an opportunity.” 

As Jen Pawol took the field as the first woman to umpire MLB spring training games since 2007, it is evident that while progress has been slow, the progress is there. And the NBC World Series had a hand in pushing forward the careers of female umpires, starting more than 80 years ago.

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