At the 1924 Olympics, Gertrude Ederle won one gold and two bronze medals in swimming. But her greatest athletic accomplishment began at 7:08 a.m. on August 6, 1926.

Covered in an array of protective oils, she plunged into the frigid waters of the English Channel, near Calais, and began swimming toward England’s Dover coast, twenty-one miles away. As she progressed, the weather became so bad that her trainers urged her to come out of the water, but she refused to stop. Finally, fourteen hours and thirty-one minutes after starting out, she became the sixth person and first woman to swim the channel, with a crossing time that bested all her predecessors by well over an hour.

Ederle proved wrong all those who doubted that a woman could manage the feat, and helped establish the place of women in competitive sports.

Photo: 1925 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


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