MILDRED DIDRIKSON (BABE) ZAHARAIS
June 26, 1911– September 27, 1956
Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, nicknamed “Babe” for her childhood prowess on the baseball diamond, dominated women’s sports from the 1930s through the 50s.
She was born in 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas, and quickly become known as not just a gifted athlete, but a fierce competitor in every arena she entered. Though best remembered for her accomplishments in golf and track & field, she also excelled in basketball, diving, roller-skating, bowling, and billiards. She even won a prize for her sewing at the 1931 Texas State Fair. “Babe” could type eighty-six words per minute, and was so good at gin rummy that few wanted to play against her.
The 1932 Los Angeles Olympics made Babe Didrikson a celebrity. Already a world-record holder in multiple events, she won gold medals in the javelin and hurdles, and silver in the high jump. She took up golf at the age of twenty-four and quickly became the top women’s player. Babe’s success was no fluke. She played hard, and she practiced even harder. “I’d hit balls until my hands were bloody and sore,” she recalled. “I’d have tape all over my hands, and blood all over the tape.”
Babe and her husband, wrestler George Zaharias, helped found the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association in 1950. But Babe’s career and life were cut short by colon cancer at age forty-five. Babe Zaharias is buried in Beaumont, where a museum and annual golf tournament honor her accomplishments.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias Foundation. “Record of Achievements.” http://www.babedidriksonzaharias.org/achievements.cfm
“Babe Zaharias Dies; Athlete Had Cancer.” New York Times, Friday, September 28, 1956.http://www.nytimes.com/specials/magazine4/articles/zaharias1.html
Cayleff, Susan E. “Zaharias, Mildred Ella Didrikson.” Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ZZ/fza1.html
Zaharias, Babe Didrikson. This Life I’ve Led. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1955.
This episode first aired May 19, 2012.