Born: June 26, 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas
Died: Sept. 27, 1956
Mildred Didrikson Zaharias is widely considered to be the greatest female athlete of all time. She was born in Port Arthur and her family moved to Beaumont when she was four years old.
Better known as “Babe” Zaharias, she was a multi-talented athlete of astounding prowess. Early in her career, she played forward for the semi-professional Golden Cyclones women's basketball team in Dallas, the national champions from 1930 to 1932. Competing in the Amateur Athletic Union Championships in 1932 she was entered in eight of ten events. She won five of them outright and tied for a sixth. Despite being the only person on the team, she single-handedly won the team championship outright for the Golden Cyclones.
At the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, she won two gold medals and a silver, breaking world records in four different events-the javelin toss, high jump, softball throw, and 80-meter hurdles.
Babe came from a working-class background and was a tireless self-promoter, delighting in the kind of publicity stunts which challenged the public's idea of women as the weaker sex. She pitched at spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals, held golf ball driving exhibitions with Gene Sarazen, played donkey-softball with an all-male, all-bearded touring softball team, and at one point even challenged the winning horse of the Kentucky Derby to a foot race. Babe’s second nickname became the "Texas Tomboy." In 1934, she played for the men’s baseball team, the New Orleans Pelicans against the Cleveland Indians, pitching two scoreless innings. Didrikson is still recognized as the world record holder for the farthest baseball throw by a woman.
As Babe grew older, she drew more and more disapproval for her "unwomanly" activities. She came to the painful realization that further success depended on recasting herself to conform to the accepted notions of femininity. In 1938, Babe met and married George Zaharias, a well-known wrestler. Golf became Babe’s focus, and George became her manager.
Babe took her first golf lesson in 1931, and won her first event in 1935. Local golfers though say she played the game while growing up. Babe revolutionized women's golf, setting standards for play and attracting large purses which helped to legitimize it. She helped found the LPGA in 1950. During her professional career, she won 31 tournaments. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1953 but continued to play golf and win tournaments. She won 17 straight women's amateur tournaments, a feat never equaled by anyone. By 1950, she had won every golf title available. Totaling both her amateur and professional victories, Zaharias won a total of 82 golf tournaments.
During her final years, Didrikson became known not only for her athletic abilities but as a public advocate for cancer awareness, at a time when many Americans refused to seek diagnosis or treatment for suspected cancer. She used her fame to raise money for her cancer fund but also as a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. Her work in this area was honored by US President Dwight Eisenhower on a visit to the White House.
She is a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame and was posthumously awarded the 1957 Bob Jones Award for distinguished sportsmanship. Babe is the only track and field athlete, male or female, to win individual Olympic medals in a running, throwing and a jumping event.
Zaharias has a museum dedicated to her in Beaumont, Texas. In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service issued an 18 cent stamp commemorating her. She is also a member of the Sports Hall of Fame at The Museum of the Gulf Coast.