On August 6, 1926, Gertrude Ederle became the sixth person and first woman to swim across the English Channel. In the face of widespread doubt that a woman could accomplish the feat, Ederle set out from Cape Gris-Nez near Calais, France on August 6 covered in sheep grease. Despite the choppy water, she swam to Dover, England in 14 hours 31 minutes beating the record by 1 hour 59 minutes. Her record stood for the next 24 years.
Instead of the usual breast-stroke Ederle used a modified form of the Australian crawl with an eight-beat variation which would become known as the American crawl. The face-down crawl style meant that she had to seal her motorcycle goggles with paraffin to render them water-tight.
When Ederle returned home to Manhattan, she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade attended by more than two million people. She went on to play herself in a movie (Swim Girl, Swim) and tour the vaudeville circuit. She met President Coolidge and had a song and a dance step named for her. Aside from her time in vaudeville, she taught swimming to hearing-impaired children.
Ederle was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965, the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003. Ederle never married and died on November 30th, 2003 in Wyckoff New Jersey at the age of 97. Her goggles from her English Channel swim are on display at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, Washington DC.
By Ria Bleathman, (Reproduced from the Brighton Iceberger Newsletter 3 Aug 2023).