Trudy Ederle (left), the first woman to swim the English Channel, with her sister.
The daughter of German immigrants, Trudy was born in New York City in 1905. She trained at the Women’s Swimming Association along with future Olympians Ethelda Bleibtrey, Helen Wainwright, Aileen Riggin, and Eleanor Holm, as well as future movie star Esther Williams. It was at the Women’s Swimming Association that the American crawl was developed, the stroke Trudy would eventually use to swim the English Channel.
At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Trudy won a gold medal as a part of the US 400 m freestyle relay team and bronze medals for the 100 m and 400 m freestyle races.
Trudy first attempted to swim the English Channel in 1925, but she was disqualified when her coach, mistakenly thinking she was in peril, had her pulled from the water. Although failing to swim the Channel was far more common than succeeding, when Trudy attempted the swim again, a London newspaper ran a front page editorial arguing that her failed attempt a year earlier proved that women were athletically inferior to men.
Despite the opinions of sexist critics, Trudy’s second swim was successful and she became the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926. At that point, five men had completed the swim. The fastest time belonged to Enrique Tiraboschi, who swam the Channel in 16 hours and 33 minutes. Trudy beat his time, swimming the Channel in 14 hours 39 minutes,
Hearing impaired since a bout of measles as a child, Trudy was almost completely deaf by age 40. In her later years, she taught swimming to deaf children. Trudy passed away in 2003 at the age of 97.
Three recent books have been published about Trudy Ederle and the competition to be the first woman to swim the English Channel: America’s Girl, The Great Swim, and Young Woman and the Sea.