Babe Didrikson Zaharias was many things and, although quiet and humble weren’t two of them, her contributions to women’s sports made her a role model for anyone who has ever strapped on a pair of sneakers or golf shoes. Her drive and large personality made her someone we all need to know.
How many sports do you play well? One? Two? How many do you play well enough to be a top adult competitor? If you’re like either of us, right now you’re hearing crickets chirping…but Babe competitively played *deep breath* basketball, track and field, baseball, golf, tennis, bowling, billiards…the list is long, and Babe was mighty in all of them. Heck, she even sold out shows on the vaudeville stage!
Born Mildred Ella Didriksen (not a typo, she changed the spelling in grade school) (also not a typo…grade school) on June 26, 1911, in Port Arthur, Texas, the 6th of seven children of Norwegian immigrants Ole and Hannah Didricksen. Babe was a wild child of the family, the neighborhood, her schools….but she also knew how to work hard to master any sport and overcome a very strong “girls can’t do that” attitude from others- she knew she could.
Babe was recruited out of high school to play semi-pro basketball, but one sport led to another and within just a couple of years she was standing on the medal platform for track and field at the 1932 Olympics… three times! She was only 21 (despite claiming otherwise) and had a lot of sports left in her–soon she possessed a lifetime of skill and was playing competitive golf.
Not only were her athletics top notch, her Working the Crowd and Charming the Press game was epically strong despite rampant sexism and gross, unnecessary questioning of her gender and sexual orientation. Take that, Sissy Lady Buttercups!
The only audio in this short video is Babe speaking…but you can also see her at the Olympics, doing the Highland Jig with George, some at home video and her playing golf.
While her life ended at the age of 45, she went out strong spreading the word about cancer awareness in an era when the word “cancer” wasn’t used in polite conversation. Babe didn’t care. She was in a fight for her life and wanted others to fight for theirs as well.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias died on September 27, 1956, with her husband George at her side and her best friend/probably lover, Betty Dodd doing what Babe wanted her to do: playing in a golf tournament.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
The two biographies that we would recommend are:
Well, honestly, this field is wide open! Movie-makers! We’re giving you the best stories here, get on it! Chop, chop!
There is a documentary called, The Founders, about the 13 original PPGA members (“The L is for Ladies”). It’s not streaming anyplace, but you can rent it for cheap on YouTube or Amazon Prime. Here is a link to the website for the documentary, you know what to do from there.
There is a Drunk History episode with Emily Deschanel as Babe. It’s not free on YouTube, but you can find it at this link for Comedy Central.
The Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum and Visitor Center is in Beaumont, Texas. If you visit, can you find out where her harmonica is, please and thank you!
An article from On the Issues magazine that takes a look at lesbian relationships in sports, specifically Babe’s. Is it our place to share this information if the woman didn’t?
and an article from Live Science about the testosterone testing of Olympian Caster Semenya.
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Break music, Only the Missle by Robin Gray; end music, Play the Game by Lilly Wolf
both used with permission from iLicense