This Day In History: June 12

Changing the day will navigate the page to that given day in history. You can navigate days by using left and right arrows

On June 12, 1974, Little League Baseball, Inc. announces its decision to "defer to the changing social climate" and allow girls to play ball. The change comes after the organization lost a series of lawsuits in the state of New Jersey, and faced growing legal challenges in other states.

Founded in 1939, the league didn’t officially prohibit girls from participating until 1951. A year earlier, 12-year-old Kay Johnston of Corning, New York, cut her hair short and successfully tried out for her local Little League team under the name "Tubby." Even after her coach and teammates discovered her secret, her skills earned her a place on the team, where she played first base. But local parents, objecting to Kay's presence on the baseball field, complained to the national organization. In 1951, the league announced a new rule, nicknamed the "Tubby Rule," which officially barred girls from playing on Little League teams.

In 1972, despite this rule, 12-year-old Hoboken girl Maria Pepe joined her local Little League team. She pitched three games as the team's starting pitcher before being forced to quit. Pepe was adamant that she wanted to play, however. The National Organization of Women filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pepe—and all girls aged 8 to 12—in New Jersey in 1973.

In hearings, Little League Executive Vice President Creighton J. Hale argued that "physiological differences" made it dangerous for girls to play against boys. In addition to their “weaker” muscles and bones, he asserted, without evidence, that a blow to their chests by a batted or thrown ball could cause cancer. Sylvia Pressler, as hearing officer for the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, ruled that the Little League's exclusion of girls violated the state's Law Against Discrimination. "The institution of Little League is as American as the hot dog and apple pie," she argued. "There's no reason why that part of Americana should be withheld from girls." On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed Pressler's ruling on March 29, 1974.

This ruling only applied to New Jersey leagues, however. Across the country, more than a dozen new lawsuits against the Little League organization emerged, and girls joined teams from New York to California. Facing mounting pressure, Little League Baseball announced its decision to "defer to the changing social climate" and allow girls to play ball in June, 1974. Congress passed a gender-neutral amendment to the Little League charter on December 26 of the same year and President Gerald Ford signed it into law.

By the spring of 1974, Maria Pepe was too old to play Little League. But the following year, 50 girls in Hoboken, N.J., followed in Pepe's footsteps and tried out for their local teams. Since then, millions of American girls have played on Little League baseball and softball teams. "It really wasn't about just baseball," Pepe said in a 2012 interview. "It was about what girls should and shouldn't do in life." Pepe's baseball cap from her 1972 Little League season is now on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, New York.