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 became 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 and 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.
The Special Collections of Lamar University's Mary and John Gray Library holds the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Collection, which includes photographs, clippings, and other materials documenting Zaharias's life and career.
The Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum showcases Zaharias's trophies and memorabilia. The money that the museum raises goes to scholarships for women at Lamar University.
ESPN.com features an article about Zaharias on its website, written in honor of her being named one of the ten greatest athletes of the twentieth century by ESPN.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias Foundation. "Babe's Life."
"Babe Zaharias Dies; Athlete Had Cancer." The New York Times, Friday, September 28, 1956.
Cayleff, Susan E. Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Cayleff, Susan E. "The 'Texas Tomboy': The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson." OAH Magazine of History 7, no. 1 (Summer 1992): 28–33.
Cayleff, Susan E. "Zaharias, Mildred Ella Didrikson." Handbook of Texas Online.
Johnson, William Oscar and Nancy P. Williamson. "Whatta-Gal": The Babe Didrikson Story. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.
Van Natta, Don Jr. Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011.
Zaharias, Babe Didrikson. This Life I've Led. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1955.