Within five months of being with the Orioles of International League, Babe went from Baltimore to the Major League Red Sox in Boston. His baseball career was running at warp speed. His personal life reflected the same dramatic changes. Babe wasn’t even in Boston for more than a few months before he met and married a young waitress by the name of Helen Woodford in October 1914.
Babe bought his new bride a farm house out in Sudbury, MA, where they lived happily together for a few years. The reality is, however, that, at the time that Babe married Helen, he was still so “new” to the world outside of St. Mary’s – the real world and real society. He was far from ready to really settle down. Babe was too interested in experiencing life’s adventures and appreciating all the attention and admiration that he was receiving as a baseball star to respect the responsibilities and bonds that marriage entailed.
When Ruth was traded to the Yankees in 1920, the couple moved to New York, where Babe thrived more than ever in the spotlight. And, he soaked up the energy, entertainment and night life of the city. Unfortunately, Helen was never comfortable with his fame and all the attention that came with it. This disconnect increased the tension between them.
Even so, in 1921, Babe and Helen adopted a baby girl, whom they named Dorothy after friend and Yankee teammate Waite Hoyt’s first wife (who also was Dorothy’s god-mother).
Sadly, sharing the love of a new baby was not enough to maintain their relationship and they slowly drifted further apart. Helen ultimately had enough of the crazy life in the big city and of her big celebrity husband and decided to move with Dorothy back to the quiet of their Sudbury, MA home. Being a Catholic and unable to divorce, Babe and Helen remained married throughout the 1920’s; however, they ended up spending most of their marriage separated.
It was 1922 when Babe first met the next love of his life, whom he would ultimately marry and remain with for the rest of his life. Her name was Claire Hodgson.
Claire was born in Athens, GA, the daughter of a lawyer who often did legal work for Ty Cobb. Claire, motivated to start a career in show business, decided to move to New York in 1918 with her baby daughter, Julia. Claire eventually had success in New York as a model and a showgirl. In the course of her performing career, she had befriended actor Jim Barton, who, in 1922, took her to a Yankee game and introduced her to the Babe. Claire was intelligent, energetic, confident and very self-assured around the Babe. In very short time, Ruth was very smitten with Claire.
As the rest of the decade passed, Babe and Claire became very close, but remained as friends given Babe’s Catholic faith. In January 1929, Ruth’s wife, Helen, sadly passed away in a tragic house fire. The exact cause of the fire was never completely determined, but a lit cigarette was the main theory.
In April of the same year, Babe married Claire a day before opening day at Yankee Stadium. After their marriage, Claire quickly introduced some much-needed discipline to Babe’s life. She became his personal manager, managing everything from Babe’s outrageous spending sprees to his exercise and eating habits.
Babe also acquired an instant family, which included Babe’s adopted daughter Dorothy from his marriage with Helen, his newly-adopted daughter Julia from his marriage to Claire and Claire’s mother and two brothers from Athens, Georgia. Babe finally had the big family he had always wanted.
Julia Ruth Stevens recalled for BRC some of her memories of growing up with Babe Ruth as her father and their family life:
“Motherhad told me that he was going to adopt me and I was just thrilled and thought how amazing it would be to be the daughter of Babe Ruth. Of course I had called him Babe for all the years that I had known him. But when they got married, Mother told Dorothy that she needed to teach me to start calling Babe, “Daddy.” But it wasn’t long before I started calling him Daddy and I still call him Daddy to this day.
Daddy and Mother loved entertaining people at their home. Daddy loved his home and all the things that went on — all the holidays. They would almost always have a New Year’s party and I can remember some of the various people that used to come – Hoagy Carmichael would come and play the piano. That was just fabulous.
He liked to have people around him but there were lots of evenings though where we would play or cards or play checkers with Mommaand he would always beat her and she would get mad and walk out!
He was so grateful to have an honest to goodness family, due to losing his mother at such a young age. Mommaloved him and so did Gene and Hubert. He thought the world of all of them. It’s not everyday that someone would be willing to bring in a whole family like that. Maybe a mother-in-law, but also two brothers? But he just loved it.”
To hear more about Julia’s life with her “Daddy”, Babe Ruth, please visit Julia’s interview to hear more personal stories.