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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Sophie Blanchard

b. 1778, France; d. 1819, Paris

Madeléine-Sophie Blanchard, widow of the pioneer French balloonist Jean-Pierre-François Blanchard, continued her husband’s legacy and became the first female aeronaut. She took up flying in 1805 and her night flights, accompanied by a dazzling display of fireworks, became a popular attraction. In 1810, she performed at a celebration of Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria. Blanchard made a total of fifty-nine ascents over a ten-year period before dying when her hydrogen balloon caught fire during one of her nighttime spectaculars in 1819.