Bernice Mary Shiner Gera: 1st Professional Female Umpire

Can you name the first Professional female umpire?

 

Well, here are a few clues… she was an avid baseball lover, as well as a pioneer for women’s rights. This is a woman who lived in a time when women were not accepted as umpires in the Professional Baseball League. That is… until this baseball lover stepped up to the home plate with a dream deep in her heart. The name of the 1st female Professional Baseball Umpire was Bernice Mary Shiner Gera, and she was a 1949 graduate of Erath High School.

The Shiner family was originally from Ernest, Pennsylvania. Four members of the family were connected to the Erath Community.

During World War II, Betty “Liz” Shiner met Pervis “Bill” Mergist, a native of Erath. They met in Brooklyn, New York and were married. At that time, they moved to Erath.

Later, Betty’s sister Helen “Helk” Shiner came to Erath as a visitor. She met Edward Suire of Erath. They too fell in love and were married.

Soon, a third sister came to Erath. Her name was Bernice Mary Shiner and was born on June 15, 1931. Bernice remained in Erath and attended school here. She graduated with the Erath High Class of 1949.

(Note: Only three graduated from Erath High that year due to the “new” twelve year curriculum which was implemented in 1950.

In 1949, there were still eleven grades. Students that year were offered the option of graduating in 1949 with an eleven year curriculum, or they could choose to remain and graduate with 12 years under the belt. Three chose to graduate in 1949. The 1949 class graduation was held with the 8th grade ceremony that year with three 11 year curriculum EHS graduates).

While in Erath, Bernice met Louis Thomas Jr. whom she later divorced. She remarried Stephen Gera.

The girls’ brother Edward “Eddie” Shiner also came to visit and met his wife Erath native Judy LeBlanc. Judy LeBlanc is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George LeBlanc. George Leblanc was the mayor of Erath at that time. Ed and Judy married and had three children (Richard, Mary and Karl).

The final Shiner sibling Henry remained in Pennsylvania.

Bernice Shiner Gera graduated from the Jim Finley Umpire School in 1967. Unable to voluntarily be accepted by professional baseball, she filed a lawsuit. Bernice Gera waged a six year legal battle to get into organized baseball as an umpire. A New York Court of Appeal ultimately ruled in her favor and on April 12, 1972 she signed a contract.

Gera officiated a class A Professional Baseball Game in Geneva, New York on June 24, 1972. After umpiring only one game (breaking the long gender of prohibition against women participating), Bernice resigned from baseball.

Bernice Shiner Gera died on September 23, 1992. She is buried in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Her tombstone reads “Pro Baseball’s First Lady Umpire.”

In Cooperstown, New York, there is an exhibit at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame that was erected in her honor.

Bernice Shiner Gera traveled a long road since her days back at Erath High in the latter part of the 40’a. With an intense love of baseball in her heart, she fought for something she believed in and was able to leave her mark in baseball, as well as for women everywhere.

Who was the 1st female Professional Baseball Umpire? Well… it was an Erath High graduate from the 1949 class named Bernice Shiner Gera.

 

Erath High School

808 S. Broadway Street

Erath, LA 70533

Phone - 337-937-8451

Fax - 337-937-5109

 

Website URL http://www.vrml.k12.la.us/ehs

 

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