Gertrude Ederle

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Gertrude Ederle
Personal information
Full name Gertrude Caroline Ederle
Nickname(s) "Trudy" "Gertie"
Nationality  United States
Born (1905-10-23)October 23, 1905
New York, New York
Died November 30, 2003(2003-11-30) (aged 98)
Wyckoff, New Jersey
Height 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
Weight 141 lb (64 kg)
Sport Swimming
Stroke(s) Freestyle
Club Women's Swimming Association

Gertrude Caroline Ederle (October 23, 1905 – November 30, 2003) was an American competition swimmer, Olympic champion, and former world record-holder. In 1926, she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. Among other nicknames, the press sometimes called her "Queen of the Waves."

Early years[edit]

Ederle was the daughter of German immigrants. According to a biography of Ederle, America's Girl, her father, Henry, ran a butcher shop on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan. Trudy was the third of six children and was born in New York City.[1] Her father taught her to swim in Highlands, New Jersey, where the family owned a summer cottage.


Ederle trained at the Women's Swimming Association (WSA), which produced such competitors as Ethelda Bleibtrey, Charlotte Boyle, Helen Wainwright, Aileen Riggin, Eleanor Holm and Esther Williams. Her yearly dues of $3 allowed Trudy to swim at the tiny Manhattan indoor pool. But, according to America's Girl, "the WSA was already the center of competitive swimming, a sport that was becoming increasingly popular with the evolution of a bathing suit that made it easier to get through the water." The director, Charlotte "Eppy" Epstein, had already urged the AAU to endorse women's swimming as a sport in 1917 and in 1919 pressured the AAU to "allow swimmers to remove their stockings for competition as long as they quickly put on a robe once they got out of the water."

That wasn't the only advantage of belonging to the WSA. The American crawl, a variation of the Australian crawl, was developed at the WSA by L. De B. Handley. According to America's Girl, "Handley thought the Australian crawl, in which swimmers did three kicks and then turned on their side to take a breath and do a scissors kick, could be improved . . . . The finished product – and its eight-beat variation, which Ederle would use – became the American crawl, and Handley was its proud father." Along with Handley, Epstein made New York female swimmers a force to be reckoned with. Ederle joined the club when she was only thirteen. From this time Gertrude began to break and establish more amateur records than any other woman in the world. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, she won a gold medal as a member of the first-place U.S. team in the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay.[2] Together with her American relay teammates Euphrasia Donnelly, Ethel Lackie and Mariechen Wehselau, she set a new world record of 4:58.8 in the event final.[2][3] Individually, she received bronze medals for finishing third in the women's 100-meter freestyle and women's 400-meter freestyle races.[2]

Trudy had been favored to win a gold in all three events and "would later say her failure to win three golds in the games was the biggest disappointment of her career." Still, she was proud to have been a part of the American team that brought home 99 medals from the Paris Olympics. It was an illustrious Olympic team – swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, oarsman Benjamin Spock, tennis player Helen Wills, and long-jumper DeHart Hubbard, who, according to America's Girl, was "the first black man to win an individual gold." The U.S. Olympic team had its own ticker-tape parade in 1924.

English Channel swim[edit]

Gertrude Ederle: "People said women couldn't swim the Channel, but I proved they could."
Parade for Ederle, coming up Broadway

The Women's Swimming Association sponsored Helen Wainwright and Trudy for an attempt at swimming the Channel. Helen Wainwright pulled out at the last minute because of an injury, but Trudy decided to go to France on her own. She trained with Jabez Wolffe, a swimmer who had attempted to swim the Channel 22 times. During the training, Wolffe continually tried to slow Trudy's pace, saying that she would never last at that speed. The training with Wolffe did not go well. In her first attempt at the Channel on August 18, 1925, Trudy was disqualified when Wolffe ordered another swimmer (who was keeping her company in the water), Ishak Helmy, to recover her from the water. According to Trudy and other witnesses, she was not "drowning" but resting, floating face-down. Trudy bitterly disagreed with Wolffe's decision.

Her successful Channel swim - this time training with Tom Burgess (who had successfully swum the Channel) - began approximately one year later at Cape Gris-Nez in France at 07:08 on the morning of August 6, 1926. She came ashore at Kingsdown, Kent, England 14 hours and 39 minutes later. Her record stood until Florence Chadwick swam the channel in 1950 in 13 hours and 20 minutes.

Gertrude possessed a contract from both the New York Daily News and Chicago Tribune when she attempted the Channel swim a second time. The money she received paid her expenses and provided her with a modest salary. It also gave her a bonus in exchange for exclusive rights to her personal story. The Daily News and the Chicago Tribune got the jump on every other newspaper in America.

Another American swimmer in France in 1926 to try and swim the Channel was Lillian Cannon from Baltimore. She was also sponsored by a newspaper, the Baltimore Post, which tried to create a rivalry between her and Ederle in the weeks spent training off the French coast. In addition to Cannon, several other swimmers, including two other American women - Clarabelle Barrett and Amelia Gade Corson - were training in England with the goal of becoming the first woman to swim the Channel. Barrett and Cannon were unsuccessful but three weeks after Ederle's feat, Corson crossed in a time that was 50 minutes slower than Ederle.

For her second attempt at the Channel, Ederle had an entourage aboard the tug (the Alsace) on August 6, 1926, which included her father and one of her sisters, Meg, as well as Julia Harpman, wife of Westbrook Pegler and a writer for the New York Daily News, the paper that sponsored Ederle's swim. Harpman wouldn't allow reporters from other newspapers on the tug - in order to protect her "scoop" - and as a result a second tug was hired by the disgruntled reporters. On several occasions during the swim this tug (the Morinie) came in close to Ederle and nearly endangered her chances. The incident caused subsequent bitterness. It also led to accusations in the British press that the two tugs had in fact sheltered Ederle from the bad weather and thus made her swim "easier".

The grave of Gertrude Ederle

During her twelfth hour at sea, Burgess, her trainer, had become so concerned by unfavorable winds that he called to her 'Gertie, you must come out!' The swimmer lifted her head from the choppy waters and replied, 'What for?'

Only five men had been able to swim the English Channel before Ederle. The best time had been 16 hours, 33 minutes by an Italian-born Argentine, Enrique Tiraboschi. Ederle walked up the beach at Kingsdown, England after 14 hours and 39 minutes. The first person to greet her was a British immigration officer who requested a passport from "the bleary-eyed, waterlogged teenager." (She was actually 20, not "a teenager," when she successfully swam the Channel.)

When Ederle returned home, she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. More than two million people lined the streets of New York to cheer her. Subsequently she went on to play herself in a movie (Swim Girl, Swim) and tour the vaudeville circuit, including later Billy Rose's Aquacade. She met President Coolidge and had a song and a dance step named for her. Her manager, Dudley Field Malone, was not able to capitalize on her notoriety, so Ederle's career in vaudeville was a huge financial success. The Great Depression also diminished her financial rewards. A fall down the steps of her apartment building in 1933 twisted her spine and left her bedridden for several years, but in 1939 she recovered well enough to appear at the New York World's Fair.

Other swims[edit]

In 1922 at Brighton Beach, Ederle broke 7 world records at various distances in the course of a single 500 meter swim. [4]

In 1925, Ederle swam the 22 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook in seven hours and 11 minutes, a record time which stood for 81 years before being broken by Australian swimmer Tammy van Wisse. [5] Ederle's nephew Bob later described his aunt's swim as a "midnight frolic" and a "warm-up" for her later swim across the English channel. [6]

In total, Ederle held 29 U.S. national and world records from 1921 until she turned professional after the 1925 season. [7]


Ederle had poor hearing since childhood due to measles, and by the 1940s she was almost completely deaf. Aside from her time in Vaudeville, Trudy taught swimming to deaf children. She never married and died on November 30, 2003 in Wyckoff, New Jersey, at the age of 98.[8] She was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery located in the Bronx, New York.


Ederle was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965. [9]

An annual swim from New York City's Battery Park to Sandy Hook, New Jersey is called the Ederle Swim in memory of Gertrude Ederle, and follows the course she swam. [10] [11]

The Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center is located in Manhattan. [12]

A BBC Radio 4 play, The Great Swim by Anita Sullivan based on the 2008 book of the same name by Gavin Mortimer was first broadcast on September 1, 2010 and repeated on January 23, 2012. It dramatises Ederle's record-breaking crossing of the English Channel.[13]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Dahlberg, Tim, Mary Ederle Ward and Brenda Greene, America's Girl (2009), St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-38265-0.
  • Mortimer, Gavin, The Great Swim (2008) Walker and Co, ISBN 0-8027-1595-8.
  • Stout, Glenn. Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World (2009), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 0-618-85868-7. A full biography of Ederle.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
United States Ethelda Bleibtrey
Women's 100-meter freestyle
world record-holder (long course)

June 30, 1923 – July 19, 1924
Succeeded by
United States Mariechen Wehselau