Of natural causes, Gertrude Ederle, 97, who in 1926 became the first woman to swim the English Channel. Upon her return to New York City, the 19-year-old daughter of a Bronx butcher received a ticker-tape parade that was attended by two million people. President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed her ' America's best girl," and a song, Trudy, was written in her honor.
Ederle learned to swim on the New Jersey shore, near her parents' summer cottage, and went on to win gold in the 4xl00-meter freestyle relay at the 1924 Olympics. Still, London bookies were offering 5-to-l odds against her making it across when, on the morning of Aug. 6, she covered herself with lanolin and sheep grease, put on her bathing suit and entered the Channel at Cape Gris-Nez. She set her stroke rhythm to Let Me Call You Sweetheart, a waltz her sister played on a Victrola aboard the tug that accompanied her. "When I looked up at the support boat and saw the American flag flying, tattered by the wind, I'd just dig a little deeper," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1984. Fourteen hours and 31 minutes after she set out—nearly two hours faster than any of the five men who had swum the Channel—she reached Kingsdown, England, where bonfires and thousands of fans awaited. Ederle went on to tour on the vaudeville circuit, swimming on stage in a giant tank. But she lost her hearing, which had been deteriorating since a bout of childhood measles, in 1930 and retreated from the spotlight, teaching swimming to deaf children in New York City, where she lived until moving to a New Jersey nursing home. She never married. "Everybody [said] it couldn't be done," she said in 2001. "Every time somebody said that, I wanted to prove it could be."