Gertrude Ederle was born in 1906 in Manhattan. She was the daughter of German immigrant parents. Beginning when she was 13, she trained at the Women's Swimming Association, which was also the birthplace of competing female swimmers Eleanor Holm and Esther Williams. Ederle broke amateur records in swimming from very early in her career.
In 1924, Ederle competed in the Olympics, taking a gold medal as part of the 400-meter freestyle relay team and bronze for her individual performances in the 100- and 400-meter freestyle races.
In 1926, Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. She did it in 14 hours and 31 minutes, a record that stood until 1950, when it was broken by Florence Chadwick. Ederle's channel swim garnered her a lot of publicity, including exclusive contracts with the New York Daily News and Chicago Tribune, and a ticker tape parade upon her return to New York (attended by a reported 2 million people). At the time Ederle swam the channel, the arduous route had been completed by no other woman and only five men.
After her swimming career came to an end, Ederle played herself in a movie (Swim Girl, Swim) and tour the vaudeville circuit. Later, she spent many years teaching deaf children how to swim, and she herself lost her hearing in the 1940s.
In 1968, Ederle was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. She died in 2003 at the age of 98.