Cover for CAYLEFF: Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias


The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Awards and Recognition:

Winner of the G.L.A.A.D. Outstanding Book Award (Gay & Lesbian Alliance for Anti-Defamation)

One of the most gifted athletes in the world, Babe Didrikson Zaharias dominated track and field, winning two Olympic gold medals in 1932. She went on to compete in baseball, bowling, basketball, tennis, and particularly in golf. The American public was smitten with her wit, frankness, and "unladylike" bravado. She became an American legend.

The legend was challenged, however, by members of the press and society who insinuated that her femininity, even her femaleness, were suspect--that there was something different, even wrong, about this preternaturally gifted woman in a male-dominated world.

She had ably used her androgyny and her powerful athleticism to promote herself, but she soon felt compelled to craft herself into a more marketable female role model--particularly in connection with the "proper" world of golf. To increase her opportunities for competitive play in this field, she became a co-founder and officer of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). As a major step in her makeover, Babe already had married George Zaharias, a wrestling promoter who was a vital partner in her constant efforts at self-promotion.

But by 1950 Babe was deeply involved with a young golfer, Betty Dodd, whose for-the-record discussion of their remarkable love is included in Babe. Stricken with cancer in her prime, Babe went on to courageously and publicly fight the disease.

Babe is a comprehensive, in-depth biography of a woman who was a great athlete at a time when it was extremely difficult for a woman to be her own person. Through interviews with members of Babe's family, her golf peers, and medical personnel, Cayleff caringly reveals the life and probes the legend of this unusual American hero. She unflinchingly examines the athletic community, the media, and the society that both loved and judged Babe, whose story embodies the struggle of all women who dare to transcend stereotypes and claim their own definitions and unique identities. Babe allows her to be all the hero--and all the human being--she was meant to be.

Susan E. Cayleff, a professor in the Department of Women's Studies at San Diego State University, is the coeditor of "Wings of Gauze": Women of Color and the Experience of Health and Illness and author of Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement and Women's Health.

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