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