Z is for Babe Zaharias

This is my contribution to Round Thirteen of ABC Wednesday. I am focusing on people for the fourth time, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, although I am worried that I may have exhausted some letters of the alphabet, but I’ll see how it goes!

Babe ZahariasMildred ‘Babe’ Zaharias was one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century, accomplished in many sports, and yet she is less known than she should be outside her native America.

Born Mildred Ella Didrikson in 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas, Zaharias was the sixth of the seven children of Norwegian immigrants, Ole and Hannah Didrikson.

Never a strong student, Zaharias dropped out of school and her first job was as a secretary for the Employers Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas. In reality the company wanted her to play basketball for their Golden Cyclones team which she lead to the Amateur Athletics Union Basketball Championship in 1931.

Babe ZahariasBut it was in track and field that she began to make her mark. Zaharias represented the company at the AAU Championships of 1932 where she competed in eight of the ten events, winning five and tying for first place in a sixth. She set four world records in an afternoon along the way – in the javelin,  80 metre hurdles, high jump and basketball throw.

The Championships were the trials for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and unsurprisingly Zaharias was chosen to represent her country and won gold in the 80 metres hurdles and the javelin and silver in the high jump.

Immediately following the Olympics, Zaharias toured the vaudeville circuit with her All-American basketball team and even tried her hand as a pool player.

Babe ZahariasIn 1935 she discovered golf, the sport that was to give her even greater fame. Zaharias soon found she had a gift for the game, but she was denied amateur status because of her previous activities. As a result she had to compete against men on the professional circuit and in 1938 she took part in the Los Angeles PGA Open, the first and last woman to do so for almost sixty years.

She missed the cut, but was paired with George Zaharias who was to become her husband eleven months later and luckily giving me my letter Z surname!

Zaharias regained her amateur status in 1942, having played no other sport for three years, and became the first female golf celebrity winning the US Amateur in 1946 and the British Amateur in 1947, the first American to do so.

Babe ZahariasShe turned professional in the same year and was a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. By 1950 she had won every golfing title and a total of 82 amateur and professional career victories. And she might have achieved even more had she not died of cancer aged just forty-five.

Perhaps it was her fame that lead her to add to her own reputation. For example, she claimed that her ‘Babe’ nickname was given her after she hit five home runs in baseball as a child, like Babe Ruth. In fact her mother had called her Babe since she was a toddler, but there is no doubt that she was multi-talented as far as sport was concerned.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

7 comments… Add yours
  • Zed Pudding 8th January 2014

    She may have been multi-talented as far as sport was concerned but how was she at ironing and darning? And what were her best dinner recipes? And when husband George called her “darling” or “sweetheart” did she flutter her eyelashes demurely like Mrs Rhodes? After all, there’s more to life than sport.

    Reply
    • Mr Parrot 8th January 2014

      I didn’t mention this in the post, but she was an accomplished seamstress as well. She claimed to have won the sewing championship at the 1931 State Fair of Texas in Dallas, but in reality won the South Texas State Fair in Beaumont. She did however make many of her own golfing outfits.

      Reply
  • Roger Green 8th January 2014

    But relatively famous, as you note, in the US. She is often a clue on American game shows, such as JEOPARDY!

    ROG, ABC Wednesday

    Reply
  • Naba 8th January 2014

    I didn’t know about her…It was good reading about her in your post thus 🙂

    Reply
  • rhymeswithplague 8th January 2014

    Our family moved from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1947 when I was six years old. The name Babe Didrickson Zaharias was in the newspapers and on the radio often during my childhood years. It didn’t hurt that she was a Texan. Thanks for reminding me of her.

    She was never referred to as Babe Zaharias. It was always Babe Didrickson Zaharias.

    Reply
    • Mr Parrot 9th January 2014

      Apologies for taking liberties with her name to fit my Z post!

      Reply
  • Leslie 9th January 2014

    Great choice – I’ve known about her most of my life as I come from a sporty family.

    Leslie
    abcw team

    Reply

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