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Young Woman & The Sea

Gertrude (Trudy) Ederle’s accomplishment of being the first woman to swim the English Channel makes her one of the most important individuals of the 20th Century regarding the advancement women in sport.

Prior to Ederle, only five men had accomplished this magnificent swim. Matthew Webb being the first in 1875 and then not again until Bill Thomas Burgess in 1911. When Trudy completed the swim in August of 1926, she not only became the first woman to successfully swim the Channel but also in doing so beat the existing men’s record by over two hours.

Trudy became one of the world’s first media superstars as headlines and photographs of her swim were on papers across the United States, Great Britain, France and beyond. She came home to a hero’s welcome with one of the largest ticker tape parades in the history of New York. (ISHOF initial inductee class of ‘65)

And yet, how many people know her story?

In March of 2008, I had the privilege of reviewing ‘The Great Swim’ by Gavin Mortimer. Mortimer chose to focus on the four women who had perhaps the best chance on making it across the Channel the summer of ’26. All of the other male and female swimmers, coaches and families, supported a very well-told story leading up to that eventful season of Channel attempts, their individual efforts to make the crossing and what became of these four women beyond.

Prior to Mortimer’s book, one of the largest pieces on Ederle’s life and accomplishments was found in the most informative book, Mermaids on Parade: America’s Love Affair with its First Olympic Women Swimmers, written by the recently passed (April ’08) distinguished founder and former Executive Director Emeritus of the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) in Ft. Lauderdale, Buck Dawson (ISHOF inductee ’84 — Google him!)

Interested in learning more about this fascinating 19-year-old who affected the world?

The publishing of two additional quality books just this past summer and fall helps tell the story of Ederle and her immediate ‘competitors’ — with one telling the story from Trudy herself, the other in a detailed context of aquatic history and those personalities involved.

America’s Girl: The Incredible Story of How Swimmer Gertrude Ederle Changed the Nation by Tim Dahlberg was published in September. I excitedly received a copy as I have known of it as a work-in-progress since very early on. Ederlecentricly fantastic!

Dahlberg was able to use what is available in public/private records and sources, and he also had access to family members and personal archives of the Ederle family — including Aunt Trudy herself. Ederle had planned to write an autobiography. A memoir of 66 pages dated Sept. 6, 1951 was never published but served as a fine original source along with family photos and a personal archive of Trudy’s.

The story begins with Ederle’s failed first attempt to swim the Channel in 1925 and takes us through the immediate aftermath and glory of the successful swim in ’26. Her rise to fame and glory were immediate and lasted for a relatively short time thereafter. This book tells the personal journey of Trudy herself with the truth and integrity as she would have wanted her story told.

Did you know that Gertrude was growing ever more deaf throughout most of her life from an early age?

In researching Ederle, I also recently discovered Young Woman & the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World by Glenn Stout. It was published in July. Three books in 18 months on Gertrude Ederle! Potential heavenly reading for this aquatic historian.

How was I to know? After all, having read two books already, just how much could a third title weigh in? In my opinion, it is historically outstanding! The initial chapter on the tragedy of the Slocum and George Catlin’s relationship to the swimming of Flying Gull and Tobacco in England in chapter 4 are two stories told well. Chapters 5 & 7 are equally informative and interesting. The story follows Gertrude and her sister Meg as they begin swimming with The Women’s Swimming Association, and the work of Charlotte Epstein (1974 ISHOF inductee) and soon to be coached by Louis de Breda Handley (1967 ISHOF Inductee).

Chapter 20 titled ‘Poison’ should intrigue most any reader and the question ‘What for?’ just about sums up Ederle’s successful swim of the Channel as you read it in context in chapter 22. Stout’s compelling rendition of Trudy’s conquering of the English Channel is indeed a triumph in itself as when he began his project he contacted the Ederle family. They already had a project in the works.

Whether their sources be with the family or all the other documentation that is or became available, all three of these most recent writers did their research and writing based on very solid documentation, according to their biographies, notes and sources. Congratulations all! It would be good to gather the three of you for a forum/summit to celebrate Trudy! ISHOF?!

I recommend all swim teams buy all three (and if you can find ‘Mermaids on Parade’) and that each swimmer have several days to check out and read each book (No reports or tests, though!). Masters swimmers andcoaches should read and have a copy of each on their library shelves. At least check them out at the library.