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.
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."