Helen Dettweiler

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Elizabeth Helen Dettweiler

Biographical Information[edit]

Helen Dettweiler was the first woman to broadcast a major league game on the radio. It was just one episode of a remarkable life.

Born in Washington, DC, she was a sporting enthusiast as a young girl, playing a number of sports before settling on golf, in order to compete with her brother Billy who was a top-ranked amateur golfer. She won the District of Columbia women's championship shortly thereafter and was known for her long drives, akin to a man's. She spent the winter of 1935-36 playing golf in Florida, where she met and toured with Babe Didrickson, the greatest female athlete of her time.

She met Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith through their joint membership at the Congressional Country Club in Montgomery County, Maryland. He offered her a secretarial position in the club's offices, where she helped out broadcaster Arch McDonald. This led to her having her own radio show, The Woman's Side of Sports. In 1938, she was hired by General Mills, the company that manufactured Wheaties breakfast cereals, to do a promotional tour around the country promoting both the product and to attract more female baseball fans. Wheaties was a major sponsor of major and minor league baseball teams at the time. This began on July 4th, when she joined one of McDonald's broadcasts of a Senators game against the New York Yankees for a couple of innings. She later repeated the feat at her various stops around the country. She worked two games with Red Barber in Cincinnati, OH and another in Philadelphia, PA. Her work was praised, but since it was linked to a marketing contract, it had no follow up.

She returned to golf in 1939 and turned professional after a while, signing a contract with equipment manufacturer Wilson and traveling around the country to take part in exhibitions. However, there were very few tournaments offering decent purses. When World War II broke, she worked as an army cryptographer in Washington and later joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the female wing of the Air Force, flying military aircraft in non-combat situations, such as taking them from factories to military bases and performing test flights. Women were used for these tasks because of a lack of qualified male pilots, although this only lasted until the end of 1944, when the women's unit was disbanded. It took until 1977 for the Veterans Department to officially recognize these women as full veterans.

After the war, she was one of the pioneering female golfers who formed the Women's Professional Golf Association, which had difficulties taking off and was soon in competition with a rival, the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Dettweiler was one of five players who signed the incorporation papers for the new association, which thanks to better promotion, became a success, with Didrickson, now known by her married named of Babe Zaharias, the sport's big star. Dettweiler never won an LPGA tournament and in the early 1950s left the tour to become a teaching professional, working largely around southern California and on the coast of Oregon, where she sponsored a pro tournament. Among her pupils were President Dwight Eisenhower, who took lessons from her on approach shots at the El Dorado club in California. In 1958, she was honored by the LPGA with its first Teaching Professional of the Year award. Her various other activities included writing columns for newspapers and for Sports Illustrated.

She retired in Palm Desert, CA, where she owned an upscale clothing store. She died nearby in 1990 of cancer at the age of 75.

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