Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin, the first female parachutist in 1799

12 October 1799, Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin became the first female parachutist.

“Bold Garnerin went up
Which increased his Repute
And came safe to earth
In his Grand Parachute.” 

(Contemporary English doggerel)

A contemporary capture of Jeanne Geneviève ascending in a balloon over Paris in 1799

In September 1783, France saw the rise of the first flying device carrying passengers, the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon Aerostat Réveillon, transporting the sheep Montauciel ("Climb-to-the-sky"), a duck and a cockerel, just a few weeks after terrified peasants had destroyed a 35 cubic metre hydrogen balloon that had unexpectedly descended on their village of Gonesse after an unmanned flight of 45 minutes from Paris. Montauciel was chosen since its physiognomy was closest to a human’s, at least according to the Brothers Mongolfier, and when the three animals landed safely after an 8 minute flight over Versailles, King Louis XVI gave his permission to allow human volunteers to fly in a balloon, after his endearing idea to let two condemned criminals ascend as guinea pigs was somehow ignored. However, after Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent le Vieux took off in a montgolfière for the first manned flight in history in November of the same year, the sky was the limit and other pioneers soon followed. One of them was the Official Aeronaut of France, André-Jacques Garnerin.

The Spanish Neoclassical painter Antonio Carnicero's (1748 - 1814) impression of "Ascent of the Monsieur Bouclé's Montgolfier Balloon in the Gardens of Aranjuez" (1784)

Imprisoned at Buda Castle for three years after trying to represent the not yet acknowledged French Republic, aviation-inspired but obviously sorely afflicted Garnerin used his time of confinement wisely and left Budapest with the concept of a frameless parachute for emergency exits from stricken flying machines. Immediately after his return to France, he put his invention into action and in October 1797, Garnerin jumped off a flying balloon from a height of 3,000 feet and landed safely in Parc Monceau in Paris’ 8th arrondissement and thus became the world’s first parachutist. Having a keen eye on public relations, he invited the young and beautiful Citoyenne Henri for a balloon trip in the summer of 1798 with great interest of the press and the good people of Paris and the lady became falsely known as the first woman "who ever had the courage to trust herself in the regions of air", others went up there before her already in 1784, but a year later, Garnerin’s 24 years old wife Jeanne Geneviève, who had fallen in love with André-Jacques when she saw him performing his first parachuting stunt, really became an aeronautical pioneer as the first female parachutist when she jumped off a balloon at a height of 2,700 feet with the device her husband had developed.

"Bonne Farte raising a Southerly Wind" to drive an army of balloons and other workarounds across the Channel to invade England, as imagined by the the English caricaturist Isaac Cruikshank in 1798

Instead of a fleet of balloons carrying French troops across the Channel, as contemporary British caricatures ridiculed the prospect of invasion, the Garnerins came to London during the Peace of Amiens in 1802 and Jeanne Geneviève jumped from a height of 8,000 feet much to the wonder and amusement of the Londoners. When war broke out again a year later, the two French balloonists were forced to return to the Continent and Jeanne Geneviève became the Aerostiere de Fetes Publiques of the aeronautic spectacles arranged for Napoleon. André-Jacques died in 1823 and his widow chose another career path as co-proprietress of a restaurant she ran together with another heroine from the days of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Marie-Thérèse Figueur, Madame Sans-Gêne, one of the very few women who had fought in the wars for 27 years without disguising her gender.

And more about her life on: