Sylvester Baker Sadler (1876-1931)

Sylvester Bake Sadler, c.1920

Sylvester Sadler was born in Carlisle on September 29, 1876, and attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania before transferring to Yale like his older brother, Lewis. Unlike Lewis, however, Sylvester completed his studies at Yale with a batchelor's degree and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. At Yale, he was classmates with Clarence Day, Jr., later famous for Life With Father.

After leaving Yale in 1896, Sadler returned to Carlisle and entered the Dickinson School of Law. His father, County Judge Wilbur Fiske Sadler, had in 1890 revived the law school, dormant since the death of Judge John Reed. Wilbur Sadler served as president of the law school, while his old friend and former client, William Trickett, served as dean. Sylvester Sadler thrived under the pedantic bachelor Trickett, and upon earning his law degree, Sylvester Sadler joined the faculty of the school.

A close knit clan, the Sadlers practiced law together as well as kept the law school alive, and until his mid-thirties Sylvester Sadler continued to live with his father (a widower at an early age) in their large Victorian home at the south-west corner of College and Louther streets. From there the lanky and aloof Sylvester would walk to his classes or his office. While his father and three brothers were popular and gregarious, Sylvester stuck close to his desk, writing a text book on criminal law in Pennsylvania, he dedicated that to Trickett and edited volume upon volume of decisions by the state Supreme Court in a series known among Pennsylvania lawyers as Sadler’s Cases.

In 1911, Lewis Sadler completed construction of a vast Palladian villa, Thornwald, on a wooded tract off the Walnut Bottom Road. Sylvester Sadler moved in with his brother and sister-in-law, and the library, which was a large room with a fireplace and a safe hidden behind bookshelves, became filled with his numerous first editions of English and American classics. In 1914, Sylvester Sadler succeeded his father as Judge of Common Pleas in and for the County of Cumberland. He was elected in 1920 to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “Keep Sylvester at home,” a rural committeeman supposedly told Republican Party chairman Lewis Sadler during this contest, “and we'll get him elected.” Sadler’s election to the Supreme Court caused Dickinson to confer upon him an honorary doctor of laws.

After his father's death in 1920, Sylvester Sadler became president of the Dickinson School of Law, and upon the death of Trickett in 1928 he served as acting dean as well. All the while, he carried a heavy case-load as an associate justice on the Supreme Court, his opinions being noted for their brevity and clarity. As his term in office wore on, Sadler moved closer to the chief justiceship due to his seniority on the court. But, in late February 1931, a winter cold turned into pneumonia, sending him home to Thornwald from his office in Philadelphia. He rested and rallied, and by the night of the 28th he was feeling well enough to have a smoke and resume his reading. However, he died in his sleep that night. Sylvester Baker Sadler was fifty-four years old.

Author of Post: 
Dickinson College Archives
Date of Post: 
College Relationship: 
Alumnus/Alumna Class Year: 
Honorary Degree - Year: