Knowing your American Heroes
Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias
(1911 – 1956)
Dad was Ole and Mom was Hannah
Were immigrants from Norway.
Born in Port Arthur, Texas
June twenty-six was the day.
Best known for her athletic gifts
Many talents and competitor.
Whatever she competed in
“Babe” was the alienator.
The name “Babe” came from her softball days
One game hit five homeruns.
Nicknamed after the great Babe Ruth
That’s how it had begun.
She was an excellent seamstress
Winning State Fair in thirty-one.
All-American in basketball
She refused to be outdone.
Several songs with Mercury Records
Her biggest was “I felt a Little Teardrop.”
An expert diver and roller skater
Even bowling was at her top.
Excelled in Track and Field
In the L.A. Olympics in thirty-two.
Won one silver and two gold
Seemed nothing she could not do.
In thirty-five she picked up golf
A latecomer to the sport.
Where she would become most famous
As golf became her court.
Nineteen-fifty her greatest year
Won every golf-title available.
Total of eighty-two championships
No one else this will be achievable.
In John Sealy Hospital in Galveston
At the young age of forty-five.
On September twenty-seventh
As an Icon her name survives.
A heroine for all women
Nothing she could not achieve.
For Mildred Ella Didrikson
She believed she could succeed.
AUTHOR NOTES: Babe Zaharias was born Mildred Ella Didriksen in the oil town of Port Arthur, Texas. Her mother, Hannah, and her father, Ole, were immigrants from Norway. Three of her six siblings were born in Norway, and the other three were born in Port Arthur. Her surname was changed from Didriksen to Didrikson. Didrikson grew up in Beaumont and acquired the nickname “Babe” (after Babe Ruth) after she hit five home runs in a single baseball game. She wrote that she was born in 1914. However her tombstone and baptismal certificate say she was born in 1911, which is generally considered the correct year. Though best known for her athletic gifts, Zaharias had many talents and was a competitor in even the most domestic of occupations: sewing. She was an excellent seamstress and made many of the clothes she wore, including her golfing outfits. She won the sewing championship at the 1931 State Fair of TexaShe was a singer and harmonica player. She recorded several songs on the Mercury Records label. Her biggest seller was “I Felt a Little Teardrop” with “Detour” on the flip side. She married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler, December 23rd, 1938.Zaharias gained world fame in track and field and All-American status in basketball. She played organized baseball and softball and was an expert diver, roller-skater and bowler. She won two gold medals and one silver medal for track and field in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Didrikson’s first job was nominally as a secretary, for the Employers Casualty Insurance Co., of Dallas, Texas, in 1930. In fact, she was employed as a ruse for her to play basketball on one of the “industrial teams” in competitions organized by the Amateur Athletic Union. Despite leading the team to an AAU Basketball Championship in 1931, Didrikson first achieved wider attention as a track and field athlete. Representing her company in the 1932 AAU Championships, she entered eight events, winning five outright and tying first for a sixth. In the process, she set five world records in a single afternoon. Didrikson’s performance was enough to win the team championship, despite being the only member of her team. As the AAU Championships were the de facto US Olympic Trials, Didrikson qualified for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She was limited to entering three events there, the javelin throw, the 80 m hurdles and the high jump. She nearly won all three events: she won gold medals in the javelin and hurdles and cleared the same height as compatriot Jean Shiley in the high jump (with whom she had tied in the AAU Championship). The jury, however, disapproved of her style (jumping over headfirst) and declared Shiley the Olympic champion. After the Games, Shiley and Didrikson split their medals. By 1935, she picked up the sport of golf, a latecomer to the sport by which she would become most famous. Shortly thereafter, despite the brevity of her experience, she was denied amateur status, and so in January 1938 she competed in the Los Angeles As the AAU Championships were the de facto US Olympic Trials, Didrikson qualified for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She was limited to entering three events there, the javelin throw, the 80 m hurdles and the high jump. She nearly won all three events: she won gold medals in the javelin and hurdles and cleared the same height as compatriot Jean Shiley in the high jump (with whom she had tied in the AAU Championship). The jury, however, disapproved of her style (jumping over headfirst) and declared Shiley the Olympic champion. After the Games, Shiley and Didrikson split their medals. Babe went on to become America’s first female golf celebrity and the leading player of the 1940s and early 1950s. After winning back her amateur status in 1942, she won the 1946-47 United States Women’s Amateur Golf Championship as well as the 1947 British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship—the first American to do so—and three Western Open victories. Formally turning professional in 1947, she dominated the WPGA and later the LPGA, of which she was a founding member, until illness shortened her career in the mid-1950s. Zaharias even won a tournament named after her, the Babe Zaharias Open of Beaumont, Texas. She won the 1947 Titleholders Championship and the 1948 U.S. Women’s Open for her fourth and fifth major championships. She won 17 straight amateur victories, a feat never equaled by anyone, including Tiger Woods. By 1950, she had won every golf title available. Totaling both her amateur and professional victories, Zaharias won a total of 82 golf tournaments. Zaharias had her greatest year in 1950 when she completed the Grand Slam of the three women’s majors of the day, the U.S. Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the Western Open, in addition to leading the money list. That year, she became the fastest LPGA golfer to ever reach 10 wins. She was the leading money-winner again in 1951 and in 1952 took another major with a Titleholders victory, but illness prevented her from playing a full schedule in 1952-53. After being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1953 and undergoing surgery, she made a comeback in 1954 and took the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, her only win of the trophy, and her 10th and final major with a U.S. Women’s Open championship, one month after the cancer surgery. With this win, she became the second-oldest woman to ever win a major LPGA championship tournament (behind Fay Crocker; Zaharias now stands third to Crocker and Sherri Steinhauer). She also served as president of the LPGA from 1952 to 1955. Her colon cancer reappeared in 1955 and limited her schedule to eight events, but she managed two wins, which stand as her final ones in competitive golf. The cancer took its toll, and Zaharias died on September 27, 1956 at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas. At the time of her death, at age 45, she was still in the top rank of female golfers. She and her husband had established the Babe Zaharias Fund to support cancer clinics. She is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Beaumont.