Babe Didrickson Zaharias has been successful in almost every sport she has tried. The Texas native was a gifted athlete, becoming an Olympic medalist, golf champion and celebrity along the way. She paved the way for women as professional athletes and became an inspiration to millions.

Mildred Ella Didrickson, affectionately known as ‘Babe’, was born in Port Arthur in 1911. She was the sixth of seven children in an active family. Her father was a carpenter and sailor while her mother was a gifted athlete herself, known for her ice skating skills. Didrickson’s parents and three older siblings had immigrated from Norway a few years earlier.

As a young child, the family moved to Beaumont. She reportedly picked up the nickname “Babe” among her friends for the way she played baseball against other neighborhood kids, but it was also a nickname her mother gave her. At a young age, she showed tremendous athletic ability in many different sports. In high school, she was an All-American basketball player and track star.

She dropped out of high school in her senior year to take a job with the Employers Casualty Insurance Company in Dallas, primarily to organize its semi-pro women’s basketball team, a team that won the U.S. National Championship. Amateur Athletic Union in 1931.

Didrickson qualified for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Competing with the best athletes in the world, she won three medals. She won gold medals in the javelin and 80 meter hurdles. She won the silver medal in the women’s high jump.

After her success at the Olympics, she was a national celebrity. She spent the next two years touring with a women’s basketball team. In 1934, she played in three exhibition baseball games, pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, and minor league New Orleans Pelicans. She was one of the first known women to play for a Major League Baseball team (a couple had previously played for minor league and semi-pro teams), albeit for a baseball game. spring training. She still holds a women’s baseball pitching record.

She started golf in 1935. She worked hard to master the game and competed in the Los Angeles Open, a professional golf event, in 1938. She was the only woman to compete in the event until the 1990s. Here she met her future husband, George Zaharias, who was a professional wrestler and sports promoter.

With golf, the top players were all amateurs, so to regain her amateur status, the United States Golf Association told her she couldn’t play any other sport for three years. In doing so, she regained her amateur status in 1942. The PGA Tour allowed her to play in several events in 1945 as an amateur in a season that saw many of her best players still fighting World War II, which was common for many sports. She played in three tournaments, making the cut for the final rounds for two events. She is still the only woman to make the cut and place in a PGA tournament.

She won the 1946 US Women’s Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur. She attempted to qualify for the US Open in 1948, but golf officials denied her request, declaring the tournament to be for men only. In 1949 she purchased her own golf course outside of Tampa, Florida, living nearby for a time.

Frustrated with the limited opportunities for female athletes at the time, she co-founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1950, and in the same year won all three major women’s championships. She won 41 LPGA tournaments between 1950 and 1956. She won the US Women’s Open three times between 1950 and 1954. In 1953, she founded the Babe Zaharias Open in Beaumont, which became a regular event in the LPGA in the 1960s. Naturally, she won the first tournament.

She was popular with the press and the public. In 1950, the Associated Press named her the best female athlete of the first half of the 20th century. In 1952, she made an appearance in the comedy Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn Pat and Mike.

In 1953, she was diagnosed with colon cancer, but she decided to survive and pursue her sports career. She underwent major surgery in 1954 and a month later won the US Women’s Open. She has become a strong advocate for cancer awareness and research through the American Cancer Society. The cancer, unfortunately, was still very difficult to treat in the 1950s. The cancer came back and she could not recover. She died in a Galveston hospital in September 1956 at the age of 45.

Years after her death, she was still remembered fondly. In Beaumont, a public park was later named in his honor and a museum dedicated to his life was opened. In 1974, the city of Tampa purchased his now neglected and dilapidated golf course, but rebuilt and reopened it as a public course renamed in his honor, still in operation today. The Post Office issued a stamp in her honor in 1981. She was one of the first inductees into the Women’s Golf Hall of Fame in 1977 and named the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Century in 1999.

Ken Bridges is a writer, historian and native Texan. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. Bridges can be contacted by email at [email protected]