Learn About New York Native Gertrude Ederle


Olympic champion and world record holder in five different events, Gertrude Caroline Ederle was an American competitive swimmer who competed from October 23, 1906, to November 30, 2003. She successfully swam across the English Channel for the first time on August 6, 1926. The press occasionally referred to her as Queen of the Waves in addition to other names.

By the time she was in her late teens, Gertrude Ederle was an Olympic swimmer and participated. She broke the record for swimming the English Channel in 1926, and for a while, she enjoyed fame and acclaim as a result of her remarkable accomplishment. At a school for deaf children, she instructed swimming in her later years.

Early Life of Gertrude Ederle

On October 23, 1905, Gertrude Caroline Ederle was born in one of the most populated cities of the United States, New York City. She was one of the five kids born to German immigrants Henry and Anna Ederle, who ran a butcher shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She learned to swim at the neighborhood public pool and at the New Jersey beach where her family spent the summers when she was a young child and developed a passion for it.

Ederle joined the Women’s Swimming Association when she was a teenager and dropped out of school to focus on her swimming career. She was 16 when she won her first local competition, and between 1921 and 1925, she held 29 records.

Gertrude Ederle’s Early Career

Trudy, Gertie, Queen of the Waves

Ederle took swimming lessons at the Women’s Swimming Association at the beginning of her career, WSA. Aileen Riggin, Esther Williams, Helen Wainwright, Charlotte Boyle, and Ethelda Bleibtrey were among the notable competitors who trained here. At the Paris Summer Olympics in 1924, Gertrude Ederle took part. She triumphed, earning a gold medal for herself. Additionally, she set a new world record with a time of 4:58.8.

Ederle transitioned from her amateur career the following year, in 1925, and started competing in the professional sphere. Gertrude Ederle still managed to swim from Battery Park to Sandy Hook in 7 hours and 11 minutes in 1925, breaking the previous record. But Tammy van Wisse, after 81 years, broke this record. Following that, Ederle relocated to France where she trained alongside Jabez Wolffe. However, as Wolffe slowed Ederle, their alliance was useless. Following this, in August 1925, Ederle made her initial attempt to swim across the English Channel.

Gertrude Ederle’s initial attempt was unsuccessful. However, she gave swimming another go in 1925 and finished in 14 hours, 34 minutes. Before Florence Chadwick’s swim of 13 hours, and 20 minutes, this record stood for 25 years.

Ederle’s Early Professional Career

Ederle began working professionally in 1925. She set a record that stood for 81 years before being beaten by Australian swimmer Tammy van Wisse when she covered the 22 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook in 7 hours and 11 minutes in the same year. Later, Ederle’s nephew Bob described his aunt’s swim as a prelude to her swim across the English Channel and a midnight frolic.

Helen Wainwright and Ederle received sponsorship from the Women’s Swimming Association to attempt to swim the English Channel. Due to an injury, Helen Wainwright had to cancel last minute, so Ederle decided to travel alone to France. Jabez Wolffe, a swimmer who had attempted to swim the English Channel 22 times, was her training partner. Wolffe tried to slow her down throughout the training, telling her that she couldn’t go that fast. Wolffe’s training did not go well. She was disqualified for her first attempt at the Channel on August 18, 1925, when Wolffe instructed Ishak Helmy, another swimmer who was keeping her company in the water, to pull her out of the water. She and other witnesses claimed that she was floating face-down and not drowning. She vehemently disapproved of Wolffe’s choice. It was assumed that Wolffe did not want Ederle to be successful because he had previously said that women might not be able to swim the Channel.

About a year later, at Cape Gris-Nez in France, at 7:08 in the morning on August 6, 1926, she began her successful Channel swim, this time training with coach Bill Burgess.

14 hours and 34 minutes later, at Kingsdown, Kent, she reached land. She held the record until 1950 when Florence Chadwick completed the Channel swim in 13 hours and minutes. Like Burgess in 1911, Ederle used motorcycle goggles to shield her eyes from salt water. Burgess used to crawl, but now she swam breaststroke and had her goggles paraffin-sealed to make them waterproof.

Later Life of Gertrude

On August 6, 1926, Ederle’s father, Meg, one of her sisters, and Julia Harpman, the wife of Westbrook Pegler and a writer for the New York Daily News, the publication that had sponsored Ederle’s swim, were all aboard the tug for her second attempt at the Channel.

Ederle was welcomed back home by a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. To support her, more than two million people lined the streets along the route of the parade. She made a deal with Edward L. Hyman to appear personally at the Brooklyn Mark Strand, and she received a payment that was significantly more than they had ever given to a single performer before.

Some locations in New York where some people will recognize her based on TV series and films, she later appeared as herself in the Bebe Daniels-starring film Swim Girl, Swim and toured the vaudeville circuit, appearing later in Billy Rose’s Aquacade. After meeting the president, she had a song and dance move named after her. Ederle’s vaudeville career was not a huge financial success because her manager, Dudley Field Malone, was unable to take advantage of her fame. Her financial benefits were also reduced by the Great Depression. She spent several years bedridden after tripping and twisting her spine in a fall down the steps of her apartment building in 1933, but she made a full recovery in time to participate in the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Gertrude Ederle’s Death

The last day of her life was November 30, 2003. She passed away when she was 98 years old.

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