Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for Sophie Blanchard - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challenge



1778-1819

“Up, up and away.” 

Europeans were fascinated with ballooning in the 18th and 19th centuries, including prominent leaders and royalty. Napoleon Bonaparte and Louis XVIII promoted it and novels like Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon romanticized the sport. 

Viewed as a male venture, ballooning was rarely a female pursuit, except as a passenger, although only a few women had participated.

In 1804, Sophie Blanchard made her first ascent in a hot air balloon with her French husband, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a well known ballooning pioneer in France. She was not the first woman to go up in a balloon. Three other women had gone up in tethered balloons, and two more in untethered balloons. 


However, life circumstances intervened and changed Sophie’s course a few short years later. Sophie was about to become the first woman to pilot her own balloon and the first woman to adopt ballooning as a career.   

Sophie (Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant) was between 16 and 19 years old when she married Jean-Pierre Blanchard, 35 years older. They never had children. As a young woman, Sophie had a nervous temperament and startled easily. Loud noises and riding in a carriage could be challenging events. It might explain why Sophie did not go up in a balloon until the age of 26. A more practical explanation is the couple desperately needed money. They faced bankruptcy. They hoped that by placing Sophie in the balloon’s basket, more fans would pay to see the exhibition. It worked, and as it turned out, Sophie loved the experience. She called it an "incomparable sensation." 


Five years later, in 1809, an accident tragically took Jean-Pierre’s life. He fell from his balloon after suffering a heart attack and died from his injuries. Still in financial debt after his death, Sophie continued the balloon exhibition on her own, becoming the first woman to operate a balloon solo. Just as Jean-Pierre had done, she parachuted dogs from the balloon as part of the show and lit fireworks in special night flights. Sophie used a hydrogen-filled gas balloon (a Charlière).

Word spread of the female balloonist. Large crowds gathered and soon she was ballooning all over Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte discovered her and assigned her the role, “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals,” as designated organizer of ballooning displays at all major events. In 1814, Louis XVIII further made her “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration,” during restoration of the French monarchy.


Taking greater risks in her eagerness to please, Sophie began to suffer physically in her travels. She lost consciousness more than once when ascending to high altitudes (upward to 12,000 feet), faced a threatening hailstorm, suffered freezing temperatures, spent long hours in the air (up to 14-1/2 hours), and nearly drowned in 1817 when she accidentally landed in a marsh. 

Sophie’s final flight was in 1819. At an exhibition in Paris, Sophie planned to drop small baskets of fireworks with parachutes from the balloon to light up the night sky. Sophie had lit fireworks at exhibitions before. While the danger of fireworks near a gas fired balloon seems obvious, the Paris show must have been in excess. Others warned her not to. Sophie didn’t listen. Dressed in a white dress and white hat with ostrich plumes, carrying a white flag, she must have appeared undaunted, although it appears she did heed the warning. Her parting words were: “Let’s go, this will be for the last time.” Sparks ignited the gas, which was soon exhausted, and the balloon crashed on the roof of a home. Sophie died on impact. 

 


Sophie made 67 ascents in a hot air balloon, and managed to clear the debts her husband had left behind. At a time when debtor’s prison was all too real in France, Sophie’s courage and self-sufficiency are admirable. This nervous young woman who startled easily made her own way. An epitaph at her grave site reads: “victime de son art et de son intrépidité” (“victim of her art and intrepidity”).








Others aviators: 
Pancho Barnes (1901-1975) USA
Ann G. Baumgartner (1918-2008) USA
Janet Waterford Bragg (1907-1993) USA

Helene Boucher (1908-1934) France
Maryse Bastié (1898-1952) France

Mary Bailey (1890-1960) UK

Amelie Beese (1886-1925) Germany
Elly Beinhorn (1907-2007) Germany

Jean Batten (1909-1982) New Zealand

Mary Bell (1903-1979) Australia

Susana Ferrari Billinghurst (1914-1999) Argentina

Sources: http://forgottennewsmakers.com/2010/09/15/sophie-blanchard-1778-%E2%80%931819-first-women-to-fly-solo-in-a-hot-air-balloon/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Blanchard

44 comments:

  1. This is a great story. I didn't know there were baloon show back in those days.
    But another woman who died of her passion. Sad.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

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    1. It must have been a sight to see. Have always wanted to go up myself :)

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  2. Wonderful one! So proud of her but feel sorry for the way she died!
    I guess the epitaph at her grave perfectly describes her..

    Great post!
    Cheers,
    Srivi
    The Piscean Me | Twitter

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    1. That it does. Thanks for stopping back.

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  3. An excellent story, most enjoyable to read and educational.
    Yvonne.

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  4. This is a fascinating theme. Just last week, an article in our local newspaper was about the death of one of the women who flew a plane in WWII. She was quite a heroine in our town. Looking forward to learning more. http://beverlystowemcclure.blogspot.com

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    1. You can imagine the courage it took to do something like that. I'm so impressed with women in aviation.

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  5. Fascinating! Flying does not seem to be going very well for women so far in this theme... :D But it is very intriguing how she exchanged her shyness for daring. Great story!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

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    1. True, isn't it? My upcoming post has a similar end. But not all stories end tragically. "Shyness for daring"....I like that :)

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  6. Sharon, such a great story, and told in a way that sparks interest and excitement! Very inspiring!

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    1. Thanks Lynn. Had hoped to see your blog up and running. Hopefully soon!

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  7. Oh dear, another tragic death. Did none of the women die of old age with her grandkids by her bedside?

    Nilanjana
    Madly-in-Verse

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  8. Very interesting, Sharon! So tragic she died so young. Well, not that going the way she did would be good at any age.

    LuAnn (approx #369 on the list) @ Back Porchervations.
    (and one of co-host AJ Lauer's #wHooligans)

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    1. What an amazing life she had led up to that point, and to think she was considered a timid woman once! Thanks LuAnn!

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  9. Another brave soul - it's lovely to read these stories (I know only 2 so far) but to get the sense of their courageous spirit. She was around 200 years ago! From an historical point of view it is also interesting to note those capsules of experience- ..Thanks Sharon

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    1. Yes, a very 'brave soul'. And so many others like her to come!
      Thanks Susan.

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  10. A fascinating story! Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Sophie sounds amazing, thank you for sharing her story :-) These kinds of historical glimpses are fascinating to me. And she took such risks. Wow, to have half her courage!

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    1. We can learn so much from the past and be inspired by all they overcame. To have half that courage makes one wonder what WE can do! Thanks Kenda!

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  12. Amazing! My maiden name is Blanchard. I wonder if there's a distant connect.

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    1. OH, that's wonderful to have the 'Blanchard' connection. You'll have to research that :)

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  13. I enjoyed reading this account. To hear what a young woman accomplished, overcoming her fears, very inspiring.

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    1. I like that she overcame a real fear. Amazing what she did! Thanks for visiting!

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  14. Sophia was quite the showman, errrr .... show woman. Parachuting dogs and fireworks? Very cool.

    I’m exploring different types of dreams and their meanings.
    Stephen Tremp’s Breakthrough Blogs

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    1. Oh, yes....a real act in the air. It must have quite a sight to see. Thanks Stephen for visiting!

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  15. I imagine she made quite a show with her bonnet and dress as she soared into the sky. I'm really enjoying the posts about women in early aviation.

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    1. I saw that bonnet and dress in my mind's eye too. Oh to have seen it, but we can imagine and remember here and now :) Thanks for your support Lee!

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  16. That is quite impressive what she did. She was a true pioneer. I never heard of her. So this was quite enlightening

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    1. Thanks Birgit. I'm learning a lot too and a bit overwhelmed with the research. Did not do these posts in advance. I'm still catching up on comments!!

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  17. Wow what a story! I have to admire her, I don't think I could have done all that she did!

    betty

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    1. I really liked learning about her too. And she did it all by herself too. Amazing. Thanks for commenting Betty!

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  18. She died doing what she loved, but how tragic. I think people like this fully live, though, so you have to admire that!

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    1. You sometimes wonder if people who die young have a sense they will and live with gusto all the more! Thanks for your support Stephanie!

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  19. What a courageous woman in a time when it wasn't easy for a woman to succeed on her own and in a 'man's' profession.

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    1. It's amazing she could continue her husband's work alone. In the end it was her act and such an act it was. Incredible! Thanks Susan for commenting :)

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  20. This is very interesting. Glad I stopped by.

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    1. So happy you enjoyed the post and stopped to comment. Hope to see you again :)

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  21. One wonders if she knew what was coming...

    Liz A. from
    Laws of Gravity
    and
    Unicorn Bell

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    1. From her parting comment it seems she did. Thanks Liz!

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  22. Wow! Awesome courage! Loved learning about this woman! Thank you!

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    1. Oh, 'awesome' is definitely the right word here. Thanks for commenting!

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