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Gertrude Ederle

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Gertrude Ederle
Personal information
Full nameGertrude Caroline Ederle
Nickname(s)"Trudy", "Gertie", "Queen of the Waves"
Born(1905-10-23)October 23, 1905
New York City, U.S.
DiedNovember 30, 2003(2003-11-30) (aged 98)
Wyckoff, New Jersey, U.S.
Height5 ft 5 in (165 cm)
Weight141 lb (64 kg)
ClubWomen's Swimming Association
Medal record
Women's swimming
Representing the United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1924 Paris 4×100 m freestyle
Bronze medal – third place 1924 Paris 100 m freestyle
Bronze medal – third place 1924 Paris 400 m freestyle

Gertrude Caroline Ederle (October 23, 1905[1] – November 30, 2003) was an American competition swimmer, Olympic champion, and world record-holder in five events. On August 6, 1926, she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel.[2] Among other nicknames, the press sometimes called her "Queen of the Waves".[3][4]

Amateur career[edit]

Ederle grew up in Manhattan where her father ran a butcher shop on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan and learned to swim in Highlands, New Jersey.[5] Ederle later trained at the Women's Swimming Association (WSA). Ederle joined the club when she was only twelve and immediately took to learning the American crawl, developed at the WSA by Louis Handley. The same year, she set her first world record in the 880-yard freestyle, becoming the youngest world record holder in swimming. She set eight more world records after that, seven of them in 1922 at Brighton Beach.[6] In total, Ederle held 29 US national and world records from 1921 until 1925.[7]

At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Ederle won a gold medal as a member of the first-place U.S. team in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. 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. Individually, she received bronze medals for finishing third in the women's 100-meter freestyle and women's 400-meter freestyle races.[6] The U.S. Olympic team had its own ticker-tape parade in 1924.[8]

Professional career[edit]

Gertrude Ederle: "People said women couldn't swim the Channel, but I proved they could."
Parade for Ederle along the Canyon of Heroes, 1926

In 1925, Ederle turned professional. The same year she swam the 22 miles (35 km) from Battery Park to Sandy Hook in 7 hours and 11 minutes, a record time which stood for 81 years before being broken by Australian swimmer Tammy van Wisse.[9] 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.[9][10]

English Channel crossing[edit]

In 1925, the Women's Swimming Association sponsored Helen Wainwright and Ederle for an attempt at swimming across the English Channel. Helen Wainwright cancelled due to an injury, so Ederle decided to go to France on her own. She trained with Jabez Wolffe, a swimmer who had attempted to swim the English Channel 22 times.[11] On August 18, 1925, Ederle made her first attempt at swimming the Channel whereupon she was disqualified when Wolffe ordered another swimmer (who was keeping her company in the water), Ishak Helmy, to recover her from the water. She bitterly disagreed with Wolffe's decision and it was speculated that he did not want Ederle to succeed.[5]

She returned to New York and began training with coach Bill Burgess who had successfully swum the Channel in 1911. Ederle also received a contract from both the New York Daily News and Chicago Tribune which paid her expenses and provided her with a modest salary. Approximately one year after her first attempt, she was successful in swimming the Channel. She started at Cape Gris-Nez in France at 07:08 am on August 6, 1926, and came ashore at Kingsdown, Kent, 14 hours and 34 minutes later. The first person to greet her was a British immigration officer who requested a passport from "the bleary-eyed, waterlogged teenager".[12] Her record stood until Florence Chadwick swam the Channel in 1950 in 13 hours and 23 minutes.[5]

Prior to Ederle, only five men had completed the swim across the English Channel, with the best time of 16 hours, 33 minutes by Enrique Tirabocchi.[13]

When Ederle returned home, she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, with more than two million people along the parade route.[5]

Later career[edit]

She made an arrangement with Edward L. Hyman to make a personal appearance at the Brooklyn Mark Strand Theatre, and she was paid a far greater amount than they had ever paid an individual performer.[14] Subsequently, she went on to play herself in a movie (Swim Girl, Swim starring Bebe Daniels) 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 renown, so Ederle's career in vaudeville was not 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 she recovered well enough to appear at the 1939 New York World's Fair.[5]


The grave of Gertrude Ederle

Ederle had poor hearing since childhood due to measles, and by the 1940s she was almost completely deaf. Aside from her time in vaudeville, she taught swimming to deaf children.[6] She never married and she was living in an old people's home in 2001.[10] She died on November 30, 2003, in Wyckoff, New Jersey, at the age of 98.[3] She was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City.


Ederle was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 1965.[7] She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2003.[15]

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.[16][17]

The Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center on 60th Street

The Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center, which opened in 2013 and is located in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, was named for Ederle, and includes an indoor swimming pool.[18][19]

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 dramatizes Ederle's record-breaking crossing of the English Channel.[20]

A biographical film, Young Woman and the Sea, based on the book of the same name by Glenn Stout, was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Joachim Rønning, and starring Daisy Ridley as Ederle. The film was released on May 31, 2024.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gertrude Ederle: American swimmer". Britannica. Retrieved February 8, 2024.
  2. ^ "Gertrude Ederle". Olympedia. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Severo, Richard (December 1, 2003). "Gertrude Ederle, the First Woman to Swim Across the English Channel, Dies at 98". The New York Times. Retrieved August 11, 2009.
  4. ^ Gertrude Ederle becomes the first woman to swim the English Channel. History.com. Retrieved on May 20, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e Dahlberg, Time; Ward, Mary Ederle (2009). America's Girl: The Incredible Story of How Swimmer Gertrude Ederle Changed the Nation. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312382650.
  6. ^ a b c Sports-Reference.com, Olympic Sports, Athletes, Gertrude Ederle Archived April 24, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Gertrude Ederle (USA)". ISHOF.org. International Swimming Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on September 23, 2019. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  8. ^ "The History of New York's Ticker-Tape Parades", Downtown Alliance. Accessed September 12, 2023. "In the 1920s, with ticker tape seen as a modernization of the ancient ritual of strewing flowers before conquerors, it became routine to hail arriving heads-of-state with a paper shower. The city started a tradition of recognizing champion athletes with the ticker-tape parade for the American Olympic team in 1924."
  9. ^ a b Lynch, Matt (2008). "NY To Highlands Swim A Tribute To Olympian Gertrude Ederle". The Two River Times. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Mortimer, Gavin (April 26, 2008). "When Gertrude Ederle turned the tide". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  11. ^ "Early Attempts". www.dovermuseum.co.uk. Retrieved May 29, 2024.
  12. ^ Pressman, Gabe (July 26, 2012). "Gertrude Ederle, Olympic Champion and Gritty New Yorker". NBC New York. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  13. ^ Heggie, Alice. "Remembering Gertrude Ederle: the swimmer who proved everyone wrong", University of Kent. Accessed September 12, 2023. "The feat had been completed by 5 men before this, but Ederle not only completed the swim but beat the record, set by Enrique Tirabocchi in 1923, by more than two hours."
  14. ^ Ferguson, Lee. "Developments of Screen and Stage Shows Traced in Career of E. L. Hyman", Motion Picture News, New York, January 7, 1928. Retrieved on June 13, 2018.
  15. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Gertrude "Trudy" Ederle
  16. ^ Swimmers Brave Chill For NY-NJ Course « CBS New York. Newyork.cbslocal.com (October 24, 2010). Retrieved on May 20, 2014.
  17. ^ Girls swimming: Charlotte Samuels of Ridgewood featured in 'Faces in the Crowd' – NJ.com. Highschoolsports.nj.com. Retrieved on May 20, 2014.
  18. ^ Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center: NYC Parks. Nycgovparks.org. Retrieved on May 20, 2014.
  19. ^ "Dive Right Into the Upper West Side's Brand New Pool and Fitness Center". West Side Rag. June 17, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  20. ^ BBC Radio 4 – Afternoon Drama, The Great Swim. Bbc.co.uk (January 23, 2012). Retrieved on May 20, 2014.
  21. ^ "Disney Takes Plunge on 'Young Woman and the Sea'; 'Star Wars' Daisy Ridley, 'Kon-Tiki's Joachim Rønning Team on Tale of First Woman to Swim English Channel". December 9, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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

June 30, 1923 – July 19, 1924
Succeeded by