HerStory June 2020: Sophie Blanchard

“Up, up, and away, in my beautiful balloon…” So goes the Fifth Dimension song from the mid-1960s. Adreamy song for a dreamy diversion, floating along in the basket beneath a hot air balloon. This month, we are honoring the first female aeronaut, Sophie Blanchard, who made a name for herself
floating across France before her untimely death at 41 with our Up, Up, and Away colorway. She had the distinction of being both the first female to pilot her own balloon AND the first woman to die in a balloon accident.

Madame Blanchard, as she was known, was the aeronaut of choice for two world leaders; NapoleonBonaparte named her “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals”, and, upon the restoration of the monarchy in1814, after performing for Louis XVIII, she was named his “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration”.

She married professional balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard in the late 1700s (who was by all accounts kind of an asshole who left his first wife and children to suffer in poverty so he could gallivant around Europe ballooning), and learned the profession from him. After he passed away in 1808, she continued in the family profession, working to erase the debts her husband had left her, and attempting even more daring feats of derring-do. The basket she used was tiny (seriously, the thought of standing in it
floating under a hot air balloon sends our heart a skittering), and she was a true performer, utilizing pyrotechnics and trick-flying, often at quite a cost. She passed out on at least 2 occasions due to the extreme altitudes at which she flew, and experienced very scary take-offs and landings on other occasions. She gained a huge following, and lots of support and enthusiasm, and her flights were always heavy on the wow factor, a fact that surely contributed to her demise.

Blanchard’s final flight was to be a night-flight, one of her favorites. Against the advice of many, the flight included a pyrotechnic display, as she floated in Tivoli Gardens in Paris. The fireworks caused an actual fire to start in her balloon, and, in trying to guide herself to safety, she became entangled in her ropes and fell out of the afore-mentioned teensy basket and to her death. She was 41 years old.

Madame Blanchard’s death was indicative of the danger that ballooning represented, and the public nature of her death helped to usher in the beginning of the end of this golden age of aeronauts. Her legacy, however, lives on to this day. She and her fellow female aeronauts paved the way for women in all fields of aviation, and her fearless determination inspired young women in the early 1800s to realize there was a world outside of that which seemed to be prescribed for them. She was brave and shewas strong and she proved that women can fly high as a bird, up, up, and away, in a beautifulballoon… We hope you have dreams of floating in the clouds (in a safe and secure way, of course) as you knit with the balloon-inspired skein of Up, Up, and Away.