Gertrude Ederle

Trudy Ederle (left), the first woman to swim the English Channel, with her sister.

The daughter of German immigrants, Trudy was born in New York City in 1905.  She trained at the Women’s Swimming Association along with future Olympians Ethelda Bleibtrey, Helen Wainwright, Aileen Riggin, and Eleanor Holm, as well as future movie star Esther Williams.  It was at the Women’s Swimming Association that the American crawl was developed, the stroke Trudy would eventually use to swim the English Channel. 

At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Trudy won a gold medal as a part of the US 400 m freestyle relay team and bronze medals for the 100 m and 400 m freestyle races.

Trudy first attempted to swim the English Channel in 1925, but she was disqualified when her coach, mistakenly thinking she was in peril, had her pulled from the water.  Although failing to swim the Channel was far more common than succeeding, when Trudy attempted the swim again, a London newspaper ran a front page editorial arguing that her failed attempt a year earlier proved that women were athletically inferior to men.

Despite the opinions of sexist critics, Trudy’s second swim was successful and she became the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926.  At that point, five men had completed the swim.  The fastest time belonged to Enrique Tiraboschi, who swam the Channel in 16 hours and 33 minutes.  Trudy beat his time, swimming the Channel in 14 hours 39 minutes,

Hearing impaired since a bout of measles as a child, Trudy was almost completely deaf by age 40.  In her later years, she taught swimming to deaf children.  Trudy passed away in 2003 at the age of 97.

Three recent books have been published about Trudy Ederle and the competition to be the first woman to swim the English Channel: America’s Girl, The Great Swim, and Young Woman and the Sea.

3

JUNE 18 - GERTRUDE EDERLE

By the time she turned twenty years old, New York City swimmer Gertrude Ederle was an Olympic gold medalist with a combined total of twenty-nine US national and world records to her name. She swam twenty-two miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook in seven hours and eleven minutes, setting a record that wouldn’t be broken until eighty-one years later.

In 1926, Ederle became the first woman in history to successfully swim across the English Channel. After departing from France, she arrived on the shore of England in approximately fourteen hours and thirty-four minutes, crushing Argentine swimmer Enrique Tirabocchi’s previous record by two hours. For the next twenty-five years, she would hold the record for the fastest time.

When she returned to America, more than two-million people gathered in the streets of New York City to celebrate her achievement. She appeared as herself in a silent film entitled Swim Girl, Swim, toured the vaudeville circuit and was considered a major star of Billy Rose’s Aquacade.

Ederle was almost completely deaf by the 1940s, due to a childhood battle with the measles and complications related to the Channel swim. She spent a large portion of her adult life teaching swimming to children at the Lexington School for the Deaf, until passing away at the age of 98 in 2003.

At the 1924 Olympics, Gertrude Ederle won one gold and two bronze medals in swimming. But her greatest athletic accomplishment began at 7:08 a.m. on August 6, 1926.

Covered in an array of protective oils, she plunged into the frigid waters of the English Channel, near Calais, and began swimming toward England’s Dover coast, twenty-one miles away. As she progressed, the weather became so bad that her trainers urged her to come out of the water, but she refused to stop. Finally, fourteen hours and thirty-one minutes after starting out, she became the sixth person and first woman to swim the channel, with a crossing time that bested all her predecessors by well over an hour.

Ederle proved wrong all those who doubted that a woman could manage the feat, and helped establish the place of women in competitive sports.

Photo: 1925 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Gertrude Ederle

María Rodilla

Desde principios del siglo XX muchas nadadoras intentaron cruzar el Canal de la Mancha sin ningún éxito. Incluso la australiana Annette Kellerman, tras 3 intentos fallidos, llegó a declarar “ninguna persona de mi género conseguirá realizar esta hazaña”.

Sin embargo, la neoyorquina Gertrude Ederle no solo consiguió cruzar el canal, sino que con 19 años batió el récord masculino existente con sus 14 horas y 39 minutos de recorrido en 1926. 

 AOn August 6, 1929, Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel. A reception was held for her at New York’s City Hall, and was broadcast by by WNYC Radio.

Here, in 2008 on WNYC, Lara Pellegrinelli reported on Ederle’s preparation for the swim by investigating one of her old training routes, swimming from Battery Park to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. 

youtube

The internet is a truly amazing tool. Here are some video clips from Gertrude Ederle’s famous crossing of the English Channel. There’s no audio, but it’s still some great footage. 

youtube

And another one. This one has more information about her life before the English Channel, conditions she endured during her swim, and her ensuing fame. There are also some interviews from contemporary swimmers discussing Ederle’s influence on the sport. 

Jumbo lobby card of Bebe Daniels and Gertrude Ederle for Swim, Girl, Swim, 1927

From the link: “This light college comedy was put together to showcase swimming celebrity Gertrude Ederle, who rose to fame the previous year as the first woman to swim the English Channel. Paramount star Bebe Daniels plays college girl Alice Smith, who is recruited to swim the Channel (with a little training help from Ederle) to raise money for her school. Prior to Ederle’s historic swim, she had won three medals at the 1924 Summer Olympics.”