Antarctic Woman Pioneer Dies
Edith Maslin Ronne, who was one of the first two women to spend more than part of a day in Antarctica and for whom the Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica is named, died on Sunday, June 14, in Bethesda, Md.
She was the wife of Finn Ronne, the noted polar explorer who led the last privately sponsored U.S. Antarctic expedition in 1947-48. Expedition members, including Jackie Ronne, spent 15 months exploring more than a quarter million square miles of Antarctica from a base on Stonington Island on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
These explorations included the region where the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf is located. The Ronne Ice Shelf is the larger part of the shelf, which is divided by Berkner Island.
Jackie Ronne had planned to travel as far as Valparaiso, Chile, on the ship taking the expedition to Antarctica. But her husband persuaded her to continue to Antarctica to file the newspaper stories he had contracted to send. Jennie Darlington, the wife of Harry Darlington, one of the expedition’s pilots, wanted to go along also, and talked her husband and Finn Ronne into it.
The only woman known to have even briefly visited Antarctica before 1947 was Caroline Mikkelsen, the wife of a Norwegian whaling ship captain, who spent about six hours ashore in 1935.
After the Ronne expedition returned home no women went to Antarctica as part of a U.S. expedition until 1969, when the U.S. Navy, which then operated U.S. Antarctic bases, changed its policy of not allowing women on its flights to Antarctica. Today approximately a third of all U.S. scientists and support staff in Antarctica are women and women have been station managers, including manager of the South Pole Station.
Jackie Ronne returned several times to Antarctica, including on a Navy-sponsored flight with her husband to the South Pole in 1971. She was the seventh woman at the South Pole; the Navy had flown six women who were working elsewhere in Antarctica there for a day the previous year.
Her daughter, Karen Ronne Tupeka, says Jackie Ronne returned to the Stonington Island base in 1995 as a guest lecturer on the expedition cruise ship Explorer and continued lecturing on cruises for a number of years. She made a total of 15 trips to the Antarctic.
Jackie Ronne was a fellow of The Explorer’s Club, a past president of the Society of Woman Geographers, honorary board member of The Antarctican Society as well as The American Polar Society.
The Ronne Family Antarctic Explorers Web site has a great deal of information including links to news stories about Jackie Ronne. Some of the material in this story is from that site and also from Jack Williams, The Complete Idiot’s Gide to the Arctic and Antarctic, pages 165-166.
Both photos used with the permission of Karen Ronne Tupeka