Mildred Didrikson, born in Texas in 1911, claimed to have been given the nickname “Babe” after legendary baseball star Babe Ruth when she hit five home runs as a child. At a time when women were not expected to excel athletically, Babe’s natural talent was immediately evident.
In high school, Babe quickly found that sports opportunities for women were extremely limited. There was even a movement to eliminate all inter-school sport for girls. Girls’ school sport would not be reintroduced in America until the 1970s.
Babe joined basketball team the Golden Cyclones and in 1931 she led them to the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) championship. In early 1932, she took part in the AAU Athletics Team championships. She won five of the eight events she participated in and won the team event despite being the only athlete in her team.
Babe qualified for the Olympic Games later that year in Los Angeles. Finally there was a national stage on which she could display her talent.
All women at that time were limited to a maximum of three Olympic events. Babe won gold medals in the 80m hurdles and the javelin, breaking world records in both. In the high jump she topped the word-record height but was awarded the silver medal, unjustly penalised for her technique: her unique head-first jumping style was deemed inappropriate for a gold medallist.
In 1935, Babe joined the Ladies Amateur Golf Tour. She would go on to win 48 tournaments, including titles in a row in 1946-47 and 10 majors, and regularly made the cut in men’s PGA events.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, one of history’s greatest athletes, died of cancer at 45 in 1956.