1799: Jeanne-Geneviève Labrosse combines the female parachute

Every week with RetroNews, the BNF press site, back on a sports story as told by the press of the time. This Saturday, the story of the first female parachute jump, in October 1799.

It’s not easy for a man and a woman in 1799 to get laid. In the proper sense of the term. André-Jacques Garnerin and a young citizen notice this. No question for the “central office”, the Paris police, to allow two people of the opposite sex to jointly reach the first sky aboard a balloon. No matter the reputation of André-Jacques Garnerin. He is the “balloonist of public holidays”, the one who offers the barges a moment of excitement tinged with funk by offering them a little balloon ride. He is also, and above all, the first man to have made a parachute jump in history. It was October 22, 1797 (1er Brumaire, year VI of the republican calendar) above the Parc Monceau (in Paris).

Garnerin is as obstinate as daredevil. He challenges the police decision and wins, as stated the Universal Chronicle June 15, 1798. “Citizen Garnerin announces that the defense which had been made to him to rise in the air, with a person of another sex, has just been lifted by the department of the Seine […]. The letter from the central administration to citizen Garnerin reads as follows: “Citizen, according to the complaint you addressed against the decree of the central office, which prohibits you from traveling in an aerostat with a young citizen, we consulted the Minister of the Interior and that of the general police, who both agree with our opinion, and think that it is no more scandal to see two people of different sexes rise together in the air, only to see them get into the same car, and that besides we can not prevent a woman of full age from doing in this respect what we allow men, and to give by rising in the airs a proof of both confidence in the processes and fearlessness […]. “” Garnerin explains to the newspaper that during the flight, he will not only be accompanied by a young citizen “With an extreme joy to see the day of the journey approaching”, but also animals, which will be dropped hanging on a parachute.

“The great aerostatic experiments continue, written the Gazette November 7, 1798, and women who no longer need men in this respect, will make observations on their own which they have not yet been aware of. “ The next daring are the citizens Henry and Labrosse, “Students in ballooning of citizen Garnerin”. “They will take an air balloon trip on the 20th of this month to the Garden of Apollo […]. They will make meteorological observations and various interesting experiences; when they reach an elevation of 300 toises [soit environ 600 mètres, une toise équivalant à 1,949 mètre, ndlr] they will launch a Garnerin-style parachute. ”

Following this first exclusively female flight, the Universal Chronicle November 17, 1798 proposes the “Report from citizens Henry and Labrosse on their air travel”. “We will not repeat here what the first air navigators described delightful sensations which one tastes while leaving the ground ground, and of the ecstasy which inspire the beauty and the grandeur of the picture of nature, tell the intrepid. We will say that we were penetrated by it, that we gave ourselves over entirely, until a very cold cold awoke us from our distraction. So we waved the tricolor, always signal of triumph and victory! Citizen Labrosse wrote a post containing these words: “Our fate is pleasant, we are without fear and without worry.” We tied him to the neck of a turtledove that we locked in a cage and we made him descend with a parachute that we had built, according to the method of Citizen Garnerin; our message has arrived safely. ”


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We don’t stop Jeanne Labrosse. The Courier of shows September 30, 1799, announces a “Extraordinary experience”. “Today, parachute descent of the citizen Labrosse (between 2 and 4 hours). It will rise up to 1,200 meters: from this immense height it will separate from its aerostat, and descend to the ground. “

It was not until October 13, 1799 that Jeanne Labrosse became the first woman to perform a parachute jump. His mentor, André-Jacques Garnerin, confesses to Friend of Laws from the next day the emotion that this feat gave him. “Yesterday, the experiment with the balloon ascent and the parachute descent of Citizen Labrosse was a complete success; I’ve never seen anything so impressive. The courage, skill and presence of mind of this kind and interesting person is second to none. I will always be proud to have trained a student whose beginning in my art will mark an epoch in the history of the century. “ Especially as we understand that the attempt was the subject of serious controversy: “His triumph immortalizes him, continues Garnerin, it confuses wickedness, crushes the serpent which dictated against it the abominable pamphlet with which Paris has just been flooded. Never has the slanderous monster exercised its rage with such fury and daring; surely people’s magistrates will believe in their dignity to have the perpetrators searched for and punished. ” We disclose: Jeanne-Geneviève Labrosse and André-Jacques Garnerin will marry a little later.

Read also Maryse Bastié, a very high-flying career and life; 1915-1935: Alice Milliat, activist in women’s sport; Virginie Hériot, life and death of “Madame de la mer”.

The rest of the story belongs above all to Garnerin who multiplies the exploits aboard hot air balloons. In October 1803, he made the first long distance air journey, 300 km between Moscow and Polova in Russia. Four years later, in November 1807, he took off from Paris and flew amidst thunderstorms before running aground seven hours later and 395 kilometers further in a German forest. The balloon made the glory of André-Jacques Garnerin, it will cause his death, in the stupidest of ways, at 54 years old, on August 18, 1823 in Paris. On the site of a new balloon prototype, he was killed by the fall of a beam. Jeanne-Geneviève Labrosse, his widow, survived him for twenty-four years and died in 1847 at 72 years of age.

Gilles Dhers

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