Gertrude Ederle, 1905-2003

  • Gertrude-Ederle-WWP

Woman Category: SportsWoman Tags: Athlete and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    Olympic swimmer, the first woman to swim across the English Channel.

    Gertrude Caroline Ederle was born in NYC, the daughter of German immigrants. She learned to swim at the age of 9 during a Highlands, New Jersey vacation and was hooked. She continued her training at a small indoor pool in Manhattan, and at 12 she left school to join the Women’s Swimming Association and began her career as a competitive swimmer. In that same year, she set her first world record, becoming the youngest swimmer to hold a world record in the 880-yard freestyle. In 1922, at the age of 17, Ederle set seven more world records, and between 1912-1925 she held a total of 29 national and world records.
    During the summer Olympics of 1924, Ederle won two individual bronze medals as well as a gold medal together with her US teammates for the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. The following year, she set another record when she swam the 22 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook in 7 hours and 11 minutes. Her record was held for 81 years. She decided that her new goal will be to cross the 21 miles between France and England. In the spring of 1925, she traveled to France, and within a few months, she had her first attempt crossing the channel. The attempt failed when her trainer forced her to get out of the water when he thought she was drowning, though she said she was merely resting with her face down. Afterward, she changed a trainer, and in her second attempt on August 6, 1926, 19 years old Ederle reached the English shore in 14 hours and 34 minutes – becoming the first woman to swim across the English Channel and beating the world record by 1 hour 59 minutes. She held the record for the next 24 years.
    On her return to the US, 2 million people waited for her in a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. Later, she toured on the vaudeville circuit, giving swimming demonstrations. At 28, she had an accident in which she twisted her spine, and afterward, she could not swim professionally anymore. Throughout her life, Ederle had a hearing problem caused by measles, and by the age of 35, she was almost deaf. Around that time, she began giving swimming lessons for children at the Lexington School for the Deaf. In her last years, she lived in an old people’s home, where she passed away at the age of 98.

    “I am not a person who reaches for the moon as long as I have the stars”

    “I am not a person who reaches for the moon as long as I have the stars”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • For crossing the channel, she coated her body with lard and Vaseline as protection from jellyfish stings.
    • As a motivation during the swim, her father called out to her that if she crosses the channel, he will buy her a roadster.
    • At the twelfth hour in sea, her trainer, concerned by unfavorable winds, called to her to come out of the water. Her reply was, “What for?”
    • When she arrived at the beach in Kingsdown, England, she was greeted by a British immigration officer who requested her passport.
    • President Calvin Coolidge called her “America’s Best Girl” and invited her to the White House.
      She was referred to as “Queen of the Waves.”
    • She played herself in the movie “Swim Girl, Swim.”
    • Her biography was documented in the book “America’s Girl: The Incredible Story of How Swimmer Gertrude Ederle Changed the Nation.”
    • The annual Ederle Swim is conducted in her honor.
    • The Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center in Manhattan is named in her honor.
    • Her name makes a cameo in the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog”, appearing in a newspaper article.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Olympic gold medal for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay (1924)
    * Olympic bronze medal for the women's 100-meter freestyle (1924)
    * Olympic bronze medal for the women's 400-meter freestyle (1924)
    * Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame (1965)
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (2003)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Athlete, NYC Women

    Gertrude Ederle swims the English Channel 1926

    Gertrude Ederle walking to and passing camera with others. SCU and SL of Miss Ederle looking out to channel. SL of Miss Ederle and Ishak Ealny, Egyptian swimmer. CU Ealny, SCU of Miss Ederle putting on her swimming helmet. CU Miss Ederle wearing helmet. Miss Ederle entering water and swimming. Band in boat plays as she swims. Crowd wades into water to greet her, in robe after swim. New York parade in her honor, Mayor James J. Walker.

  • Gertrude Ederle in 1925. The photo was taken at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. Photo credit - WWP team

  • Citations and Additional References:
    Britannica website.
    History Extra website.