On This Day
1799 – Jeanne Geneviève Labrosse becomes the first woman to jump from a balloon with a parachute, from an altitude of 900 metres (3,000 ft).
Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin (1775–1847), née Labrosse, was a French balloonist and parachutist. She was the first to ascend solo and the first woman to make a parachute descent (in the gondola), from an altitude of 900 meters on 12 October 1799.
Labrosse first flew on 10 November 1798, one of the earliest women to fly in a balloon.[Note 1] She was the wife of André-Jacques Garnerin, a hydrogen balloonist and inventor of the frameless parachute.
Jeanne Labrosse was amongst the crowd watching André-Jacques Garnerin’s first hydrogen balloon flight and parachute descent at Parc Monceau, Paris, on 22 October 1797. She made his acquaintance, became his pupil, and flew with him on 10 November 1798, at Parc Monceau. She is sometimes described as the first woman in the world to fly in a balloon although Élisabeth Thible made a free flight in 1784, and Citoyenne Henri flew with Garnerin on 8 July 1798, four months earlier.[Note 2]
On 12 October 1799, Labrosse became the first woman to parachute, from an altitude of 900 meters. She went on to complete many ascents and parachute descents in towns across France and Europe.
Patent for parachute
On 11 October 1802, she filed a patent application on behalf of her husband for: “a device called a parachute, intended to slow the fall of the basket after the balloon bursts. Its vital organs are a cap of cloth supporting the basket and a circle of wood beneath and outside of the parachute and used to hold it open while climbing: it must perform its task at the moment of separation from the balloon, by maintaining a column of air.”[Note 3]
André-Jacques held the position of Official Aeronaut of France and was unofficially known as the aérostatier des fêtes publiques, so the couple visited England in 1802 during the Peace of Amiens. They completed a number of demonstration flights, including his first flight ascending from the Volunteer Ground in North Audley Street, Grosvenor Square and a parachute descent to a field near St Pancras. This gave rise to the popular English doggerel:
Bold Garnerin went up
Which increased his Repute
And came safe to earth
In his Grand Parachute.
Jeanne Garnerin accompanied him on his third flight over London. One of her parachute descents was estimated at 8,000 feet (2,438 m). When the war between France and Great Britain resumed in 1803, the couple were forced to leave England and return to France, where she continued to make flights and descents.
Garnerin’s husband died in 1823. Garnerin later met French heroine Marie-Thérèse Figueur, Madame Sans-Gêne, who had fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, with whom she reportedly opened a table d’hôte restaurant.
Jeanne’s niece, Élisa Garnerin (Elizabeth), (born 1791), learned to fly balloons at age 15, and made 39 professional parachute descents from 1815 to 1836 in Italy, Spain, Russia, Germany and France.[Note 4]
On 17 October 2006, the rue Jeanne Garnerin in Wissous, France, was named in her honour.
Born On This Day
1908 – Ann Petry, American novelist (d. 1997)
Ann Petry (October 12, 1908 – April 28, 1997) was an American writer of novels, short stories, children’s books and journalism. Her 1946 debut novel The Street became the first novel by an African-American woman to sell more than a million copies.
Ann Lane was born on October 12, 1908, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, as the youngest of three daughters to Peter Clark Lane and Bertha James Lane. Her parents belonged to the black minority numbering 15 inhabitants of the small town. Her father was a pharmacist and her mother was a shop owner, chiropodist, and hairdresser. Ann was also the niece of Anna Louise James.
Ann and her sister were raised “in the classic New England tradition: a study in efficiency, thrift, and utility (…) They were filled with ambitions that they might not have entertained had they lived in a city along with thousands of poor blacks stuck in demeaning jobs.”
The family had none of the trappings of the middle class until Petry was well into adulthood. Before her mother became a businesswoman, she worked in a factory, and her sisters worked as maids. The Lane girls were raised sheltered from most of the disadvantages other black people in the United States had to experience due to the color of their skin; however there were a number of incidents of racial discrimination.
As Petry wrote in “My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience”, published in Negro Digest in 1946, there was an incident where a racist decided that they did not want her on a beach. Her father wrote a letter to The Crisis in 1920 or 1921 complaining about a teacher who refused to teach his daughters and his niece. Another teacher humiliated her by making her read the part of Jupiter, the illiterate ex-slave in the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Gold-Bug”.
Petry had a strong family foundation with well-traveled uncles, who had many stories to tell her when coming home; her father, who overcame racial obstacles, opened a pharmacy in the small town; and her mother and aunts set a strong example: Petry, interviewed by the Washington Post in 1992, says about her tough female family members that “it never occurred to them that there were things they couldn’t do because they were women.”
Petry’s desire to become a professional writer was raised first in high school when her English teacher read her essay to the class and commented on it with the words: “I honestly believe that you could be a writer if you wanted to.” The decision to become a pharmacist was her family’s. After graduating in 1929 from Old Saybrook High School, she went to college and graduated with a Ph.G. degree from the University of Connecticut College of Pharmacy in New Haven in 1931 and worked in the family business for several years, while also writing short stories. On February 22, 1938, she married George D. Petry of New Iberia, Louisiana, which brought her to New York. She worked as a journalist writing articles for newspapers including The Amsterdam News (between 1938 and 1941) and The People’s Voice (1941–44), and published short stories in The Crisis, where her first story appeared in 1943, Phylon, and other outlets. Between 1944 and 1946 she studied creative writing at Columbia University. She also worked at an after-school program at P.S. 10 in Harlem. It was during this period that she experienced and understood what the majority of the black population of the United States had to go through in their everyday life. Traversing the Harlem streets, living for the first time among large numbers of poor black people, seeing neglected children up close—Petry’s early years in New York inevitably made impressions on her and led her to put her experiences to paper. Her daughter Liz explained to the Washington Post that “her way of dealing with the problem was to write this book [The Street], which maybe was something that people who had grown up in Harlem couldn’t do.”
Petry’s first and most popular novel, The Street, was published in 1946 and won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship with book sales exceeding one million copies.
Back in Old Saybrook in 1947, Petry worked on Country Place (1947), The Narrows (1953), other stories, and books for children, but they never achieved the same success as her first book. She drew on her personal experiences of the hurricane in Old Saybrook in Country Place. Although the novel is set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Petry identified the 1938 New England hurricane as the source for the storm that is at the center of her narrative.
Petry was a member of the American Negro Theater and appeared in productions including On Striver’s Row. She also lectured at University of California, Berkeley, Miami University and Suffolk University, and was Visiting Professor of English at the University of Hawaii.
She died in Old Saybrook at the age of 88 on April 28, 1997. She was outlived by her husband George, who died in 2000, and her only daughter, Liz Petry.
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