AP Names Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After she was selected its Female Athlete of the Year five times by 1950, the Associated Press named Babe Didrikson its Woman Athlete of the Half Century. Didrikson gained world-class recognition in golf, track and field, and basketball and also excelled in most other sports she played. She held more records and medals in more sports than any other contemporary athlete, female or male, and was recognized as the greatest female athlete of the twentieth century by Sports Illustrated magazine in 1999.

Summary of Event

The Associated Press initiated an award Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award Female Athlete of the Year award, A.P. for female athlete of the year in 1931. One year after the award was instituted, Babe Didrikson Zaharias achieved this honor. After she was also named Female Athlete of the Year in 1945, 1946, 1947, and 1950, the Associated Press named her its Woman Athlete of the Half Century on February 16, 1950. In 1954, she again won the Female Athlete of the Year award. Her 1932 award recognized her accomplishments as an Olympic medalist in track and field. The other awards were based on her golf prowess. Most agree that no other woman in the twentieth century has excelled in as many sports. [kw]AP Names Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century (Feb. 16, 1950) [kw]Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century, AP Names (Feb. 16, 1950) [kw]Woman Athlete of the Half Century, AP Names Didrikson (Feb. 16, 1950) [kw]Athlete of the Half Century, AP Names Didrikson Woman (Feb. 16, 1950) Athletes;Babe Didrikson Zaharias[Zaharias] Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Half Century award Woman Athlete of the Half Century award, A.P. Athletes;Babe Didrikson Zaharias[Zaharias] Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Half Century award Woman Athlete of the Half Century award, A.P. [g]North America;Feb. 16, 1950: AP Names Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century[03170] [g]United States;Feb. 16, 1950: AP Names Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century[03170] [c]Sports;Feb. 16, 1950: AP Names Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century[03170] [c]Publishing and journalism;Feb. 16, 1950: AP Names Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century[03170] [c]Women’s issues;Feb. 16, 1950: AP Names Didrikson Woman Athlete of the Half Century[03170] Zaharias, Babe Didrikson

Didrikson was born the sixth of seven children of Ole and Hannah Didriksen in Port Arthur, Texas. She showed an unusual talent for sports, even from an early age. She was nicknamed “Babe” (for Babe Ruth) after she hit five home runs in a baseball game. Her mother had been an ice skater, so it is not surprising that she ice-skated (and roller-skated) as well. She played high school basketball and later played on a semipro team that played multiple sports called the Golden Cyclones Golden Cyclones . Didrikson, who did not finish high school, entered the working world as a typist and clerical worker.

The Golden Cyclones played Amateur Athletic Union Amateur Athletic Union, U.S. (AAU) softball and basketball and competed in track and field. The team was sponsored by the Employers Casualty Insurance Company. Many accounts show that Didrikson was recruited to work for this company more for her athletic abilities than for her office skills. However, she did have strong clerical aptitude, typing at more than eighty words per minute. Didrikson was the Golden Cyclones’ star team member in the early 1930’s. The team, which won the AAU women’s basketball championship in 1931, had lost the championship three years in a row before she joined the team. She was sought after on teams sponsored by various employers, but was mainly affiliated with the Golden Cyclones, which was having great competitive success at this time.

Through these competitive endeavors, Didrikson became interested in track and field Track-and-field athletics[Track and field athletics] . Her drive to succeed and willingness to practice incessantly led to an amazing sports career. In 1932, she won five events at the AAU track and field championships and placed in two others. The Golden Cyclones’ coach encouraged her to enter the team competition—alone. Her point total for all seven events was more than the entire second-place team, which had twenty members. She qualified for the Olympics Olympic Games;1932 in Los Angeles that year and went on to win gold medals in the javelin Javelin competition, 1932 Olympic and the 80-meter hurdles 80-meter hurdle, 1932 Olympic[Eighty meter hurdle, nineteen thirty two] and a silver medal in the high jump High jump, 1932 Olympic[High jump, nineteen thirty two] . Her Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award in 1932 was given for her Olympic achievements.

Because her family needed money, she began to exploit her sports skills to gain income. Helped by Ray Doan Doan, Ray , a sports promoter, she formed the Babe Didrikson All American Basketball Team in the early 1930’s. She also pitched in spring training games with major league baseball teams and then was hired to travel with one of the touring House of David House of David baseball teams. The House of David sponsored a number of touring teams in the 1930’s and 1940’s. They were well known for their bearded players and their connection with a religious colony in Benton Harbor, Michigan. With the House of David (the Western States Traveling Team) she pitched two innings of each game. She also played billiards in touring exhibitions. During this period of sports history, many barnstorming teams earned their income by traveling from town to town, playing exhibition games.

Didrikson’s fame came, in part, because most people did not think women could excel in athletics. She took up golf Golf in the 1930’s and practiced extensively, showing the same perseverance that she had shown in other sports. She often hit thousands of balls in a practice session, until her hands were sore and raw. She developed a very long drive (she averaged 240 yards off the tee) and impressed those who watched her.

In 1938, Didrikson met and married George Zaharias Zaharias, George , a professional wrestler, who helped her refine her golf game and encouraged her to settle down with him in Florida. Didrikson managed her playing career and her finances while she pursued golf, first as an amateur and then as a professional. She ran into difficulty playing as an amateur, however, perhaps because she had participated in other sports for remuneration. She abstained from playing any sports for remuneration for three years (from 1940 to 1943), and in 1943 she regained her amateur status.

Didrikson began winning major golf titles in 1940. In that year, she captured the Western and Texas Open championships, the first of many victories. (She claimed in her autobiography to have won seventeen tournaments in a row in the mid 1940’s. However, golf historians have shown that she actually lost in the first round of the Spokane National Open in August, 1946, breaking that string of wins at thirteen, not seventeen.) She was instrumental in helping form the Ladies Professional Golf Association Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in 1950 and was the women’s top money winner for a number of years. She turned professional again in the late 1940’s.

Didrikson eventually won fifty-five amateur and professional golf events, including the U.S. Women’s Amateur tournament in 1946 and the British Women’s Amateur tournament in 1947, becoming the first American to win the latter event. The Associated Press honored these achievements by naming her Female Athlete of the Year in 1945, 1946, and 1947.

After returning to the professional ranks, Didrikson won ten majors, including the U.S. Women’s Open U.S. Women’s Open (golf)[U.S. Womens Open (golf)] in 1948, 1950, and 1954. She lost only once in seven years of professional competition. By the end of 1950 she had the distinction of having won every possible women’s golf title. She told The New York Times, after a reporter asked her if she had thoughts of retiring, that “As long as I am improving I will go on. . . . And besides, there’s too much money in the business to quit.” In 1950, the Associated Press named Didrikson both its Female Athlete of the Year and Woman Athlete of the Half Century.

Didrikson’s life was soon interrupted by a cancer diagnosis in 1953. She stopped her golf touring for some time during surgery and treatment but returned to the tour to win the Ben Hogan Comeback of the Year Award in 1953 and the U.S. Women’s Open in 1954. The Associated Press once again honored her in 1954 as Female Athlete of the Year. She fought great pain during the last years of her life, but often played rounds of golf until her death in 1956.

Significance

Babe Didrikson Zaharias distinguished herself by excelling in sports at a time when women athletes were considered “second-class” and unfeminine, manly women. She helped women gain recognition for their professional skills by cofounding the LPGA and showed that women could make a living wage through participating in professional sports. She was certainly a foremother to the women who are paid professional athletes in the twenty-first century. Athletes;Babe Didrikson Zaharias[Zaharias] Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Half Century award Woman Athlete of the Half Century award, A.P.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cayleff, Susan E. Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Urbana: University of Illlinois Press, 1995. An oft-cited work that examines Didrikson’s private life as well as her sports career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Freedman, Russell. Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion. New York: Clarion Books, 1999. Written by a prolific biographer, this book places Didrikson’s life in the context of the times in which she lived—in terms of gender issues—and chronicles both her personal life and her athletic achievements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sanford, William R., and Carl R. Green. Babe Didrikson Zaharias. New York: Crestwood House, 1993. Written for young adult readers, this work is part of the Sports Immortals series of biographies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tricard, Louise M. American Women’s Track and Field: A History, 1895 Through 1980. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1996. Provides a historical overview of American women in track and field.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zaharias, Babe Didrikson, with Harry T. Paxton. This Life I’ve Led: My Autobiography. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1955. Didrikson’s autobiography, completed just before she died.

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