of the things I remember about my motherís high school years is that
she attended Beaumont High School with "Babe" Didrikson, the outstanding
woman athlete of the twentieth century.
The Babe, who earned her nickname from sandlot baseball companions
who thought she batted like Babe Ruth, was born in Port
Arthur, Texas, on June 26, 1911, to Norwegian immigrants Ole and
Hannah Didriksen. The Babe later changed the spelling of the family
The Didriksenís moved to Beaumont
in 1915, which is how it came about that my mother attended BHS at
the same time. Didrikson excelled in high school sports, and so was
employed by Employers Casualty Company in Dallas primarily to represent
the company in amateur athletics, one of the ways many businesses
advertised then. The Babe made the companyís Golden Cyclones national
1932, the Babe represented the company in the Amateur Athletic Unionís
national track-and-field competition, and won five first place medals
and tied for first place in a sixth. This earned her a place on the
team that represented the United States in Olympic competition in
Los Angles in 1932, where the Babe won gold medals for javelin and
hurdles competition, and the silver in high jump.
Didrikson returned to Texas a hero. She participated in exhibition
tours during the mid-1930s, primarily to support herself and her family,
including a time with a womanís basketball team that competed with
men representing the House of David, a religious organization.
Didrikson began to concentrate on golf, and after winning tournament
championships easily over what might be called "country club competition,"
the losers fought back by removing her amateur status. When this was
restored, the Babe won every available tournament for women.
Didrikson helped establish the Ladies Professional Golf Association
in 1948 and was its leader on the links and off for several years.
On the personal side, Didrikson married professional wrestler George
Zaharias in 1938. They had no children. Didrikson developed cancer
in 1953, and returned to tournament play after what first appeared
to be a victory over the disease. Unfortunately, the disease returned
and the Babe passed away in John Sealy Hospital in Galveston
on September 27, 1956. The Babe, whose full name was Mildred Ella
Didrikson Zaharias, was buried in Beaumont,
which also hosts a museum containing memorabilia of Didrikson career
as the outstanding woman athlete of the twentieth century.
September 11, 2005 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.