Author photo. Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1947 [source: New York Times; photographer not known]

Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1947 [source: New York Times; photographer not known]

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Mildred Ella Didrikson was born in Port Arthur, Texas, the sixth of seven children in an Norwegian immigrant family. They moved to Beaumont when she was four years old, and she attended Beaumont High School. She acquired the nickname "Babe" in childhood, which reflected her skill at playing baseball (like Babe Ruth), but also was based on "Bebe," her mother's pet name for her. After leaving school, she went to work as a secretary at the Employers' Casualty Insurance Company in Dallas so she could play on the company's basketball team, which she led to an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championship in 1931. She was a singer and musician, and became an expert at every sport she tried, including diving, swimming, skating, bowling, track and field, baseball, basketball, tennis, boxing, volleyball, handball, billiards, skating and cycling. In the 1932 AAU Championships in Evanston, Illinois, as the lone competitor for her employer's team, she competed against other teams in eight out of ten events, winning five and tying for first in a sixth. In a single afternoon, she set four world records in the javelin throw, 80-meter hurdles, high jump, and baseball throw. At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, she won two gold medals and one silver medal for track and field. In the years following the Olympics, she performed on the vaudeville circuit, travelled with teams like Babe Didrikson's All-Americans basketball team, and competed as a billiards player. By 1935, she began to play professional golf, the sport in which she was to become the most famous. The first competition she played in was the Los Angeles Open, a men's PGA tournament, a feat no other woman had accomplished. There she med George Zaharias, a professional wrestler, whom she married in 1938. She went on to become America's first female golf celebrity. After gaining back her amateur status in 1942, she won the 1946 U.S. Women's Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur, the first American to do so, and three Women's Western Opens. After formally turning professional in 1947, she dominated the Women's Professional Golf Association and later the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), of which she was a founding member and later served as president. By 1950, she had won every golf title available and was the top money-winner that year and again in 1951. She was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame of Golf. She published her autobiography, This Life I've Led, in 1955. She continued to play and win golf tournaments even after colon cancer and a colostomy. She died of the disease in 1956 at age 45. The Associated Press voted her the Greatest Female Athlete of the first half of the 20th century. The Babe Didrikson Zaharias Foundation was established in Beaumont, Texas.
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