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THE BABE
Mildred Ella Didrikson

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

Mildred Ella Didrikson, the greatest woman athlete of the twentieth century, was the sixth child born to Norwegian immigrants Ole Nickolene and Hannah Marie Olson Didriksen, in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1911.

"Babe" Didriksen received her nickname while playing pickup baseball games because playmates said she batted as well as Babe Ruth. She changed the spelling of the family name because that was the way East Texans insisted on spelling it anyway.

The Didrickson's moved to Beaumont, in 1915, where she was graduated from Beaumont High School. Babe Didrikson was a natural athlete who could compete successfully with male athletes in any game featuring skill more than strength. Basketball was the primary high school athletic competition for girls, but when she graduated in 1930, Didrikson began to take part in a variety of competitions in industrial leagues, which were quite popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Didrikson first played basketball for the Employers Casualty Company, then track. She represented the company as a one-woman team in the Amateur Athletic Union championships in 1932, competing in eight events and placing in four of them. Later that year she won gold medals in hurdles and javelin, and the silver medal in women's high jump in Olympic competition in Los Angeles.

The AAU disqualified Didrikson as an amateur after her name appeared in a commercial advertisement, so she accepted the name as the same as the game and became a professional. Didrikson appeared in vaudeville, and participated in exhibition baseball games featured bearded members of the House of David, a religious sect.

Then Didrikson found golf, and eventually won every tournament available to women. She was one of the founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association and the Association's leading money winner in 1949 and 1950.

Didrikson met and married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler, in 1938. In the fashion of the time, The Babe added "Zaharias" to the end of her name, but also retained the "Didrikson" in the middle.

The Babe began to battle cancer in 1953, a fight she lost in 1956. A museum in Beaumont celebrates Didrikson's life and career as the greatest woman athlete of the twentieth century.


© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historica
November 20, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.



Forum:
Hotel Dieu Hospital, Beaumont, Texas Landmark
"This is where Mildred "Babe" Didrickson Zaharias was treated for cancer, also at UTMB in Galveston, and died here, as well. The hospital sat right on the Neches River, above on a bluff, I think." - Frances Giles, June 17, 2015

Beaumont TX - Hotel Dieu Hospital 1921
1921 Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Hotel Dieu, Beaumont, Texas
“Conducted by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. A training school for nurses is also maintained. A most through course of instruction is offered, covering a period of three years.” - from the The Standard Blue Book of Texas 1920.
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