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Jeanette Piccard

Jeanette Piccard was an active collaborator with her husband Jean Piccard in their balloon experiments.
Jeanette Piccard was an active collaborator with her husband Jean Piccard in their balloon experiments.

A graduate of Bryn Mawr and of the University of Chicago with a masters degree in organic chemistry, Jeannette Ridlon met Jean Piccard while he was teaching at the University of Chicago. They married in 1919, and she became her husband's scientific partner and collaborator. The pair spent 1919 through1926 on the faculty of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, then returned to the United States when Jean accepted a post as director of research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Her husband Jean was given the Century of Progress balloon after its historic 1933 flight, and the two immediately started work on another high-altitude flight that would emphasize scientific research. Jean Piccard would do the science; Jeannette would pilot the balloon. Jean taught her how to pilot a balloon, and Jeanette received her pilot's license in July 1934.

But before they could embark on their flight, they needed funding. Having backed Captain Albert Stevens' Explorer I flight, which crashed on July 27, 1934, and preparing to back Explorer II, which launched on November 10, 1935, the National Geographic Society was not interested in supporting the Piccards' 1934 flight. As Jeannette characterized it, "The National Geographic Society would have nothing to do with sending a woman—a mother—in a balloon into danger." Even Goodyear-Zeppelin and Dow Chemical, with whom Jean Piccard had worked on the first Century of Progress flight, were reluctant to support the flight. Dow Chemical asked the Piccards to take the company logo off the gondola and not use the trade name Dowmetal in their publicity.

With a sendoff from their three sons, Jean and Jeannette Piccard and their pet turtle lifted off on October 22, 1934, making Jeannette the first woman to enter the stratosphere. Asked repeatedly by the press if she would do it again, Jeannette replied, "Oh, just give me a chance."