The Ronne Family
First Lady" - newly released autobiography by Edith M. "Jackie"
from Encyclopedias Online
80th Birthday Tribute by
daughter, Karen Ronne Tupek
Memories, Frozen in Time
- article in Washington
Post, March 1995, about Jackie's return to Stonington Island, Antarctica.
Society of Woman Geographers Bio
Adventures of the Elements
- Jackie featured as a hero on a game card
Jackie Among the Icebergs
- article by Georgia Tasker about Antarctic trip with Jackie
At Stonington Island, Antarctica in 1947 and
Edith Anna Maslin "Jackie" Ronne
Born: October 13, 1919;
Edith "Jackie" Ronne was a
U.S. explorer of
Finn Ronne on
1941. On the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition of
1948, that her husband commanded, she became the 1st
American woman to set foot in Antarctica, and with Jennie Darlington, the wife
of the expedition's chief pilot, became the first women to overwinter in
Antarctica. They spent 15 months together with 21 other members of the
expedition in a small station they had set up on
Stonington Island in
She is the namesake of the Ronne Ice Shelf, which was previously called Edith Ronne
Land. Her husband, Finn, who discovered and mapped that previously
unknown territory during his Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (1946-8),
named it in her honor.
Edith Ronne returned several times to Antarctica, including on a
Navy-sponsored flight to the
South Pole in
1971 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of
Roald Amundsen first reaching the South Pole (she was the seventh
woman at the pole), and a
1995 trip back to her former base at Stonington Island as guest
lecturer on the expedition
cruise ship Explorer.
Shorter Bio -
Jackie Ronne, a fellow of the Explorer’s Club, was
the first American woman to set foot on the Antarctic continent and the
first woman to over-winter as a working member of an expedition. She
married Norwegian-American Antarctic explorer, Captain Finn Ronne, and he
persuaded her to join his 15-month Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition,
1946 – 48 on Stonington Island in Marguerite Bay. She helped with
scientific experiments, kept the expedition’s log and wrote many articles
for newspapers back home, documenting the discovery and mapping of the
world’s last unknown coastline in the Weddell Sea. Her husband named the
new territory Edith Ronne Land to honor her; it was later changed to Ronne
Ice Shelf, the world’s second largest. She continued to write and lecture
about the Antarctic, including in encyclopedias and her recent book,
Antarctica’s First Lady. She returned to Antarctica 15 more
times, including a visit to the South Pole.
Edith Anna "Jackie" Maslin Ronne: a biography
Born Edith Ann Maslin on October 13, 1919, Edith "Jackie" Ronne
was raised in a conservative, private Baltimore family. Her father,
Charles Jackson Maslin, worked several jobs, his last being with the B&O
Railroad. Her mother, Elizabeth Parlett Maslin, could have taught school,
but like a proper married woman of her day, she stayed home instead and
reviewed Edith's homework every night making sure she never went to school
without knowing her lessons letter perfect.
According to Edith, she spent three "marvelous" summers
away from home at a Girl Scout summer camp, Camp May Flather, in Virginia.
It was at camp where she acquired her nickname, "Jackie." In the 1930s,
Baltimore, Maryland, did not believe in co-education in their public
schools so she graduated from Eastern High School at sixteen without ever
having a date, except when she arranged for a classmate's brother to take
her to the senior prom.
Jackie spent her first two years in college at the College
of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Then she transferred to George Washington
University in Washington, D.C., In order to be near the university, Jackie
moved to live with her aunt and uncle in Chevy Chase, Maryland, who were
financing her education. The first person she recognized on campus was a
girl from Girl Scout Camp. To her friends, she introduced Edith as Jackie,
and everyone felt the name better fit her personality than Edith. Since
that time she has been called Jackie.
At George Washington University, Jackie joined Phi Mu Sorority, had a
great social life, and in 1940 graduated with a major in History and a
minor in English. When she graduated, it was not easy to find a job with a
"mere" undergraduate degree. Therefore, Jackie began a typing and
shorthand course while looking for work. The National Geographic Society
offered her a job. After about nine months, she sought and found a
government job at the Civil Service Commission paying twice the salary of
the National Geographic Society. A few months later she moved on to the
State Department where she would remain for over five years serving in
several different positions from file clerk to International Information
Specialist in the Near and Far Eastern Division of Cultural Affairs.
In 1942, she met the polar explorer Lieutenant Finn Ronne (who would
later advance to the rank of Commander) on a blind date and over the
ensuing months, Jackie enjoyed his maturity (Finn was 20 years her
senior), nationality, "charming" Norwegian accent, and stories of
exploration. Finn proposed to Jackie before Christmas of 1943 and they
were married on March 18, 1944.
Finn Ronne was a great organizer, planner, and leader; and in 1947 he
commanded the last privately funded expedition to Antarctica despite
roadblocks and obstacles erected by Admiral Byrd and associates and the
British who currently occupied the area of Antarctica where the Ronne
Expedition was destined. (Once the Ronne Expedition reached the frozen
continent, the Americans and British worked closely together.)
Nevertheless, regardless of a small budget and crew, the Ronne Antarctic
departed on January 25, 1947, from Beaumont, Texas, where Finn selected
Beaumont Eagle Scout Arthur Owen to join the expedition. Jackie edited all
of Finn's correspondences and reports and was to be in charge of the
domestic side of the expedition. However, instead of remaining stateside,
she resigned her position with the State Department to accompany her
husband on his fifteen month
Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition.
As Expedition Recorder-Historian, Jackie Ronne wrote the news releases
for the North American Newspaper Alliance. She also kept a daily history
of the expedition's accomplishments, which formed the basis for her
husband's book, Antarctic Conquest, published by Putnam in 1949, and made
routine daily seismographic and tidal observations when the geophysicist
was in the field during summer trail program.
Jackie Ronne became the first American woman to set foot on the
Antarctic Continent. (Before her, only the wife of a Norwegian whaling
captain had done so very briefly.) Mrs. Ronne, along with the wife of one
of the expedition's pilots, became the first two members of an
over-wintering expedition, and the first women to spend a year in the
Antarctic. No woman had ever lived in the Antarctic before this, nor did
any do so for the following twenty-five years, until women scientists
occasionally accompanied their scientific husbands in recent years. The
400,000-square-mile area newly discovered by the Ronne Antarctic Research
Expedition was named EDITH RONNE LAND by the U.S. Board on Geographic
Names, making it one of the very few land areas honoring a woman of
non-royal birth. After 20 years on the maps, the feature was renamed RONNE
ICE SHELF, an area which is second only to the great Ross Ice Shelf.
In the years following that first expedition, Jackie Ronne has lectured
extensively throughout the U.S. and in numerous foreign countries. In
addition to collaborating with her husband in various scientific and
popular accounts, she has written numerous articles including those for
the annual editions of the Britannica, Americana, and Funk and Wagnall's
encyclopedias, as well as many articles for the North American newspaper
Upon the invitation and sponsorship of the Argentine Government in
1959, she participated in the first commercial tourist cruise to
In 1962, she made a trip to the Arctic Islands of Spitsbergen,
visiting Norwegian and Russian coal mining stations on a Norwegian sealing
vessel which penetrated the pack ice to within 600 miles of the North
In 1971, upon the invitation of the Secretary of Defense, she
accompanied her husband as a guest of the U.S. Navy to McMurdo Sound,
Antarctica, and made a flight to the South Pole Station, as the first
husband and wife team and only the eighth woman to do so, in observance of
the 60th Anniversary of Amundsen's attainment of the Pole on December 14,
1911. (Finn Ronne's father, Martin Ronne, was a member of the Amundsen expedition.)
addition, Jackie held various offices in the Society of Woman Geographers;
The Columbian Women of George Washington University; the United Nations
Association and the National Society of Arts and Letters. She assisted in
civic organizational work in various capacities and is listed in Who's Who
of American Women. Jackie received a special Congressional Medal for
American Antarctic Exploration, was elected president of the Society of
Woman Geographers, holding that office from April 1978-1981. She was the
recipient of a special Achievement Award from Columbian College of George
Washington University and dedicated a Polar Section to the National Naval
was a special Guest Lecturer aboard Abercrombie and Kent's Antarctic
Cruise Ship, "Explorer," in February and March, 1995, when she
returned to her former Antarctica base at Stonington Island as a guest
lecturer. and aboard the
Orient Lines ship, "Marco Polo," in January and February, 1996,
and again in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2002. In her lifetime, she has made 16 trips to Antarctica.
Jackie Ronne has one daughter, Karen Ronne Tupek,
and two grandchildren. Both her daughter and granddaughter were also Girl
Scouts. Her grandson was a very active Scout and engineering student (like his grandfather Finn Ronne, who
was a mechanical engineer with postgraduate studies in naval architecture)
and excelled in rowing, making the U.S. Junior National Rowing Team in
2001, and anchoring the Varsity boat at the University of Wisconsin.
Currently, Jackie Ronne resides in Bethesda, Maryland, and is as active
and quick-witted as ever. She returned to Beaumont, Texas, on November 11,
2004, for the opening of the Ronne Expedition and Arthur Owen Museum
Exhibit at the Clifton Steamboat Museum, the debut of her book
"Antarctica's First Lady," a reunion of the surviving six crew members
from the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition, and the unveiling of her
Adventures of the Elements character card, the Jackie Ronne card. These
events to honor Jackie Ronne, the Arthur Owen family, and the expedition
are being coordinated by Three Rivers Council #578, Boy Scouts of America,
which is the same Boy Scout Council area that was involved in the 1947
expedition. Philanthropist, historian, and Clifton Steamboat Museum owner
David Hearn, Jr., has made this historically significant event possible by
funding the publication of her book and the extensive Ronne Exhibit at his
museum including digitizing and preserving over 16,000 feet of motion
picture film from the expedition.
80th Birthday Tribute
Written by daughter Karen Ronne Tupek and read
at her 80th birthday party, with theme "Cruise
to Antarctica": October 13, 1999, Bethesda, Maryland
As Cruise Director, I want to welcome
everyone here tonight to our “Cruise to Antarctica”. In fact, we are
cruising there, right now. Look closely at the icebergs off our bow,
here, with a penguin, as well. And, there’s the Lemaire Channel, over
there, with its most spectacular scenery. And we seem to have a pesky,
but friendly penguin in our midst who has gotten lost from the Rookery.
Perhaps he’s looking for some Krill. Come on over here, Penny. Everyone
say “Hi” to Penny.
I’m glad you could join us on this
special Antarctic cruise, celebrating the 80th birthday of my
mother. Now, Mom, you know you couldn’t escape having a party. And, we
have to have a little “recap” of the last 80 years, so Mom, this is your
My mother is a great woman, not only
because she is my mother, and a most devoted and loving mother, at that.
But also because she is the First Lady of the Antarctic.
First Lady of the Antarctic - That title
has many components, as she is first and foremost, a lady, with many
charms - as well as social graces and a vivid personality - that have
allowed her to sparkle across the globe, from the places of common men to
the palaces of royalty. But secondly, she is a first, a pioneer. As the
first American woman to set foot on the Antarctic continent, she is also
the first woman in the world to be a working member of an Antarctic
expedition and to winter-over on the frozen continent. She firmly has her
place in Antarctic history.
As a result, her pioneering achievement
has accorded her a rare honor for a woman of non-royal birth: Antarctica’s
Ronne Ice Shelf, the world’s second largest, is named for her.
Mom was born and raised amidst the marbled
front steps of Baltimore as Edith Anna (she hates that) Maslin. She got
the nickname of Jackie, taken from her father’s middle name of Jackson, at
Camp Mayflather, a Girl Scout camp in Virginia. It was long forgotten
until she encountered a former scout friend on her first day at college
here in Washington. Introduced around campus with her old Girl Scout
moniker, the nickname “Jackie” stuck with her ever-widening social group.
When Mom, having skipped two grades,
graduated from Baltimore’s Eastern High School at the tender age of 16,
she kissed Baltimore “good-bye” with a “farewell” “good riddance” “au
revoir” “adios” “sayonara” and “I’m outta here”. (Did you catch that?
She hated Baltimore!) She came to Washington to live with her aunt and
uncle, and was exposed to a wider view of life. She flourished while
living with them in Chevy Chase. Auntie and Uncle, as I called them,
later became the grandparent figures in my life.
“Auntie” sent her to Wooster College in
Ohio for two years. While there, she really tried hard to major in boys.
But when the college wouldn’t award that degree, she transferred to George
Washington University and eventually joined Phi Mu sorority. She
graduated from GW at the young age of 20 with a degree in history, which
is ironic, since she ended up making some history of her own in the
She worked briefly for the National
Geographic Society, then the State Department, where she befriended, among
others, my Godmother, and that changed her life.
She met my Norwegian father, Finn Ronne,
on a blind date arranged by my Godmother, Bettie Earle Heckmann. Bettie
paired them up, despite a 20-year age difference, because they both
skied. Now, my father had already ski-jumped off of every small mountain
in Norway, skied glaciers and miles of snowfields, and guided sledges
behind dog teams in the Antarctic. And my mother’s skiing consisted of
sliding down the hill behind the Shoreham Hotel into Rock Creek Park.
Their skiing conversation was over in a matter of minutes, but fortunately
they found more things in common. When told that my father was agile for
his age and could do deep knee bends, my mother’s friend said, “On the
dance floor? How terrible for Jackie!” Well, my father was very
athletic, and indeed they went to Stowe, Vermont, to ski on their
honeymoon. Mom should have guessed what was coming, what with all that
romantic honeymoon snow.
Shortly after their marriage in March of
1944, my father planned his own private expedition to the Antarctic, his
third over-wintering experience, to conduct scientific investigations and
to discover and chart new lands. The Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition
finally got going after the end of WW-II and departed the end of 1946.
When my father needed her assistance, he gradually persuaded Mom to go
along on the expedition, rather than assist from afar in Washington. As
she sailed further and further south to help with last minute
preparations, she was also grabbing more and more last minute supplies as
her fate was becoming clearer and clearer. Her horrified aunt cautioned
in the last paragraph of her last letter attempting to dissuade Mom from
going, “And don’t forget, the cold will ruin your complexion.” So off she
went, having started the journey with only a cocktail dress, nylon
stockings, and high-heeled shoes, – to become a pioneer of women in
Mom handled the daily logs of the
expedition, wrote newspaper articles for the North American Newspaper
Alliance, kept the official expedition diary, and assisted in many
The experience made her life and opened
doors she never imaged. Upon her return in 1948, she was a bit of a world
celebrity and toured the U.S. on a lecture tour, pinch-hitting for my
father. Over the years, she helped write and edit my father’s four
books. Articles, TV appearances, and honors followed.
She went on the very first tourist cruise,
by the Argentines, to the Antarctic in 1957, and was later flown, along
with my father, to the South Pole in 1971, the first couple to be there,
to commemorate Amundsen’s 60th anniversary of attaining the
South Pole. In addition, she was the seventh woman to stand at the South
Pole; the first six were journalists who together jumped from an airplane,
so none could claim being “first”.
As for achievement on her own, she served
for three years as international president of the Society of Woman
Geographers, wrote the annual articles on the Antarctic for the
Encyclopedia Britannica for many years, and continued to give lectures.
In addition to SWG, she continues to be an active member of the Washington
Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters, ARCS, and the
And speaking of exploring, she’s always
had the travel bug. In fact, travel has been a major theme of her life.
When I was a kid, for many years running we spent lots of time with the
Sweeney family - skiing at Aspen, and sailing at Gibson Island in the
Chesapeake Bay. Also, we traveled twice all over Europe, once ending up
at Spitzbergen in the Arctic, even pushing back the Iron Curtain there
with a landmark visit to a Russian Base. And of course we’ve spent lots of
time in my father’s homeland of Norway on four or five different trips.
We also made an extensive trip to Mexico. During my summer camp years,
Mom and Dad left me behind when they were brought to Japan by the
government to advise some mountain climbers about equipment for scaling
high peaks in the Antarctic.
Since my father’s death in 1980, she has
forged trails to New Zealand, Australia, Alaska, and Western Canada. As a
result of her most famous trip, Mom was the subject of gossip on
Washington radio. She traveled through China with WMAL radio
personalities Harden and Weaver, and became known as the “shop-a-holic”!
“Wow, Jackie really cleaned out the tourist shops! She looked like a
heavily laden Christmas tree getting off the airplane!” “Yeah, that
Jackie Ronne really knows how to shop!” were Harden and Weaver’s comments
during their show’s morning broadcast. But later, she did have a featured
live interview with them on their show.
While I was in college, Mom and I made a
long 8-week road trip all through the western states, stopping in the
National Parks as well as glamorous cities. We hiked and climbed hills in
the parks and were wined and dined in royal style at Caesar’s Palace in
Las Vegas. Her favorite part was the scenic drive along the rocky
California coast; so much so, in fact, that we backtracked and drove it
three times. We even tried swimming in the Great Salt Lake – big
mistake. It was so salty that it was more like floating. We ended up in
the northern parks, and took in the scenery of the Tetons, Yellowstone,
and Mount Rushmore. That long odyssey was a blast!
When I was free of school, Mom and I
continued to travel and we investigated Spain, Mallorca, the Greek Isles,
and Turkey. In 1987, Mom asserted her independence and did
something that my father always wanted to do, but never did: she bought a
condo in Florida. It has been her refuge and has become our family's
second home, and a jumping-off place for more travel.
Once I married, Mom, Al, and I, and later the kids,
continued to make numerous trips to the Caribbean, out west again, Norway
again, and the ultimate trip, Antarctica – three times for me and . . .
how many times is it for you, Mom? And I’m hoping for many more
adventurous expeditions with her.
She has now gotten on the Antarctic cruise lecture
circuit and made trips as a lecturer the past five years, and continues as
a celebrity fixture on the Marco Polo, on which our whole family has had
the pleasure of cruising to the continent of our heritage. She
is scheduled to take three more trips this year on the “Marco Polo” to
Mom’s traveling days came to a brief halt
in 1951, when she gave birth to her only child, me. I was most fortunate
to have her as my mother all these years. She was the one to sit up late
at night with me when I was sick, wake me up early in the morning for
school with breakfast on the table, chauffeur me to every sort of activity
imaginable, attend every one of my school performances, and talk late into
the night about school dances or my latest crushes on boys. And during
college, she sent me the best “care packages”; most notable was this
crazy-fangled hammer that doubled as several other tools, for my
architecture class – but it saved the day!
She has always been loving, nurturing,
even-tempered, and accepting of me and everything I’ve done. Most every
child says their mother is the best, but I’ll say that she really is
the best because she is always there, always available as a
As a grandmother, she has not only been a
loyal babysitter to help out Al and me, but she has been a constant
stabilizing support to her pride and joys, grandson Michael and
granddaughter Jackie, who is obviously named after her.
Everyone comments to me about how
wonderfully warm, open, and especially charming my mother is. She is easy
to talk to and confide in, and it’s always so interesting to hear her
stories. Even stories I’ve heard a million times are fun to hear again,
because of the enthusiastic way in which she tells them. Now, if she
could only get those stories published and out in print for everyone to
read in book form, that would be a big goal accomplished!
Mom is a loyal friend and goes out of her
way to try to do favors for other people, if she can. She gets involved
in people’s lives in creative and meaningful ways.
As my father said, “I never thought I
would ever be 80! It’s not that I wouldn’t live that long, but I never
thought the day would actually come.” But for Mom, so it has, and I am so
glad that everyone is here to share in her celebration, not only of her
milestone year, but in our celebration of her as a wonderful, beloved
person. All of our lives are enriched by this woman – my mother – Jackie
Edith "Jackie" Ronne
(Mrs. Finn Ronne)
Member of the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition, 1946-48
"Roald Amundsen should see us now," I said to
my husband in December of 1971, as we settled into the bucket seats of the
Hercules C-130 turbo jet flying us to the South Pole. Once, the Norwegian
explorer had driven his dog teams across the Ross Ice Shelf, over perilous
crevasses, up steep glaciers to the 10,000 foot high polar plateau. It
took Amundsen's party two months of difficult sledging to reach the South
Pole on December 14, 1911. Now, sixty years later, we retraced the route
in three hours - about and hour and a half of flight time for each month
of their tortuous struggle.
Although the round trip from McMurdo Sound on
Antarctica's icy coast to the geographical South Pole can be achieved by
air in one good flying day, women who have made the trip are more scarce
than penguin chicks at a zoo. Many women have crossed the Antarctic Circle
via tourist ships in recent years, but you can count in an ice tray those
who have contributed to on-the-spot history of the Continent. The pristine
icy scenery we were surveying from the relative warmth and safety of the
huge ski-equipped Navy plane's cockpit was not new to me. It was my third
venture to the Antarctic Continent, although my first directly to 90
degrees South, where all the meridians meet.
When my husband, Captain Finn Ronne, first
organized the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition in 1946, I readily gave
a helping hand to the enormous amount of tedious planning such an
undertaking required. So familiar had I become with the background of the
expedition, that it had been my intention to handle its affairs Stateside,
while they were away. It was a hectic departure, and while bidding my
husband good-bye, he asked if I would go with his ship as far as Panama to
help with the last minute details. My two week leave of absence from a
challenging State Department position was hastily extended. (Actually, I
never did return to it.) My suitcase contained little more than a good
suit, a good dress, nylon stockings and high heeled shoes. Little did I
realize this was the beginning of a series of events that led me to be the
first American woman to set foot on the earth's seventh Continent and to
spend my third and fourth wedding anniversaries there.
Not only did my husband ultimately persuade me
to accompany the expedition as Historian and Correspondent for the North
American Newspaper Alliance, but he permitted the wife of one of the other
members to go, so as to quell any qualms I had about becoming the "first
and only". We selected the most appropriate size clothing from the large
supply sent with us from the Quartermaster Corps for cold weather testing.
Although I had lived through previous
Antarctic adventures vicariously since first meeting my explorer husband,
I was completely unprepared for the truly magnificent scenery of that
desolated southern continent. Once within the Antarctic Circle, our 183
foot, wooden hull ship slowly made her way through the light pack-ice belt
that surrounds the Continent at all times. Under the brilliant sun, the
shimmering icebergs and the snowcapped mountain peaks stood in great
contrast to the vivid blue sky and cobalt sea. Heavily crevassed glaciers
descended through the majestic mountain passes ending in a 200 foot high
frozen ice shelf which, with few exceptions, encircles the 5,200,000
square mile land mass.
Once our ship was securely anchored in a cove
off Stonington Island, sheltered by a curving glacier in Marguerite Bay,
we began transporting scientific equipment, food for two years, dogs,
three airplanes, gasoline, 30 tons of coal and innumerable other materials
ashore. Within weeks, the specially constructed and insulated buildings
were ready for occupancy and we moved in. Meanwhile, ice had formed
around the ship and soon she was intentionally frozen-in for the winter.
With my husband, I shared a small hut, about twelve feet square, connected
to the mess hall bunk house by a short tunnel.
During the long winter night that soon come
upon us, I learned first hand of the tedious hard work required to carry
on investigations in twelve branches of science under harsh polar
conditions. Later, I assisted our geophysicist in some of his routine work
while he was away from the base. Meticulous preparations also were
necessary for the aerial exploratory programs and surface geographical
survey teams planned upon the sun's return. Usually, I wrote an average of
three articles a week describing our progress for radio transmittal to the
N.Y. Times receiving station. For relaxation, we had motion pictures
several times a week. Classical and modern music could be heard throughout
the isolated camp most any hour of the day. There were, of course, endless
discussions on all imaginable subjects, as well as an occasional card
game, however, when all the candy bars had been won, the men ceased
playing poker. But the library with its great variety of subject matter
most appealed to me. Thus, the winter night passed quickly. Even so, all
hands were certainly glad when the sun's rays finally returned to the
northern horizon and the men were able to tackle their outside
With my husband as navigator, his carefully
planned flights gradually discovered new land and mountain ranges far
south in previously unknown areas. Months later, upon our return, the U.S.
Board of Geographic Names called the newly discovered area, which was
about the size of the state of Texas, EDITH RONNE LAND. It remained on the
maps for twenty years, until the Board again decided to name the second
largest ice shelf in the world the RONNE ICE SHELF for all three Ronnes,
each of whom had spent more than a year in Antarctica.
Martin Ronne, my husband's father, had been a
member of Amundsen's expedition. He made the small tent Amundsen left at
the South Pole signifying his December 14-17 arrival. Martin remained with
Amundsen through twenty years of polar exploration and subsequently became
the only member of Admiral Richard Byrd's first expedition who had ever
been to Antarctica before. Upon Martin's death in 1931, his son, Finn
Ronne, immediately followed in his father's footsteps as a natural
extension of his Norwegian heritage.
In recognition of our family's long
involvement in Antarctic exploration, my husband and I were invited by the
Department of Defense on a flight to the Pole in December 1971, in
remembrance of Amundsen's 60th anniversary of his reaching the Pole. This
was my husband's ninth (and last) journey south over a 38 year span,
including four over-winterings of 15 or more months duration. To our
knowledge at that time, Finn Ronne had sledged more miles behind a dog
than any other man and was well aware of the grueling effort involved in
advancing Antarctica's frontiers.
Below us, the polar bound tracks of Amundsen,
Scott, and Shackleton had long since been obliterated by the shifting
winds. Not only were we on our way to pay homage to the remarkable feats
of willpower, stamina, and courage of these early pioneers, but we
intended to observe the great progress that had taken place since.
The majestic and terrifying beauty of the
Beardmore Glacier defies description. Bordered on either side by high
mountains, this wide flowing frozen river moves its ice masses from the
high polar plateau precipitously down to the Ross Ice Shelf. As we flew
southward, numerous dense crevassed areas disrupting its surface could be
seen from the safety of our vantage position in the cockpit of the plane.
With brilliant sky overhead and only a few scattered clouds on the distant
horizon, the sharp ridges and black rock outcrops stood in distinct
contrast to the dramatic ice panorama of our flight track below.
Continuously, we climbed up the steep glacier, so formidable to the early
explorers, until we reached the edge of the 10,000 foot high polar
plateau. An eternally white virgin surface stretched as far as the eye
could see. For the next 200 miles we scanned the endlessly white horizon
for the Pole Station. Finally, we spotted movement on the distant snowy
surface where men were preparing for our arrival. Soon we were on the
ground at 90 DEGREES SOUTH!
It was bitterly cold! We noticed it at once,
particularly on our faces. The chill factor was 80 degrees below 0,
Fahrenheit, although the temperature was a mere minus 20. We marveled at
those who had made it the hard way. Never could we know the feeling of
those intrepid men who had endured so much hardship and incredible
sacrifice. For us it had been spectacular and embarrassingly easy.
Newcomers are ushered directly to the Pole, a
few yards from the makeshift runway. We had just become the first husband
and wife team to set foot there. I was the seventh woman to stand at the
pole, the first six being woman journalists who jumped simultaneously from
the airplane together during the command of Admiral George Dufek in the
late 1950's. The South Pole is about ten feet high and decorated like a
barber pole. It is surrounded by the fluttering flags of the sixteen
signatory nations to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. The treaty "froze"
national claims and opened the Continent to science and peaceful purposes
only. As we staved off frostbite, the photographers recorded my husband's
presentation to Deep Freeze's commanding officer, Admiral Leo McCuddin, of
two historic photographs, one of Amundsen in December 1911 and one of
Scott a month later, both at the Pole.
Hurriedly, we ducked into the entrance of our
Amundsen-Scott base and carefully descended the chiseled icy steps to
buildings and their connecting tunnels buried some twenty feet beneath the
surface. As we toured the station, the various scientific research
programs came alive. Geological, biological and upper atmospheric
information is being systematically inventoried at all of our Antarctic
bases, along with similar occurrences in other area of the world. Some
immediate applications of the results already obtained provide us with
more accurate predictions in long-range radio transmission and weather
forecasting, not to mention some legal and political problems connected
with the already known mineralization of the continent. In a somewhat
lighter vain, a fascinating three year study of the sleep and dream
patterns of personnel was being conducted to help understand human
adaptation to isolation.
Our stay at the Pole station was concluded
with a leisurely meal of steak, cafeteria style, after which we made a
short-wave radio broadcast to Lowell Thomas, a friend of many years. The
three and a half hour flight back to McMurdo (our main U.S. staging area)
was uneventful, but for me the day will remain forever the most memorable
of my life.
The next morning we flew to Cape Royds. We
intended to spend only an hour or so at the hut used in 1907, by British
leader Sir Ernest Shackleton when his party attempted to sledge to the
Pole by manhauling their heavy loads. They came within 97 miles of their
hard fought goal before adverse conditions forced them to turn back. It
would have been impossible for them to have reached the Pole and return
After viewing the austere conditions of a
polar camp from yesteryear and photographing many nesting penguins in a
nearby rookery, we climbed into the two UH-1N helicopters and strapped
down for takeoff. Suddenly, our previous 20 mile visibility changed so
rapidly that after five miles of flight we ran into whiteout conditions.
There was no visible horizon and no depth perception. Sea ice, glaciers
and sky all appeared as one and made us feel as though we were maneuvering
in a bottle of milk. As both helicopters swung around, they informed
Ground Control at McMurdo that we were returning to Cape Royds. I was a
lone woman with seventeen men at Shackleton Base and we were marooned!
Also, we were hungry, tired and generally
uncomfortable. Soon the efficient crew brought out their only survival
gear and lit a small gasoline stove to prepare a meal. It took a while to
melt the several million year old hard blue ice chipped from a nearby
glacier. Into the uncontaminated water went a combination of chicken,
spaghetti, beef, and everything else readily available to make the most
delicious 18 cups of 'hooch' any of us had ever tasted. Then we made
The pilots followed along the coast, hoping we
could stay close enough to the glacier fronts and rocky outcrops abutting
the sea to find our way back to McMurdo. But again, the curtain of white
dropped. In a flash reaction we made a sharp bank towards the last visible
crevasses at the edge of the ice barrier. As we jolted around 180 degrees,
I thought we were going to crash into the glacier front, but the skillful
pilot righted the craft and we returned again to Cape Royds.
By now we had seen more of the volcanic ash,
penguins and Shackleton's hut than we cared about. It was easy to conclude
we really didn't want to become heroes after all. Walking 40 miles back to
McMurdo was out of the question. In our path lay mountainous terrain
dotted with crevasse filled glaciers pouring down the valleys from Mt.
Erebus. Nor could we reach the base over the sea ice pierced with wide
open water leads quite impossible to cross. Our return depended solely
upon the two helicopters and our next try would have to be successful as
there was insufficient gas left for a third abortive attempt.
Left momentarily to our individual reveries, I
had no difficulty imagining the men of the top Command back at McMurdo
figuratively tearing their hair. Innocently enough, I had become a good
example of why, in those times, the U.S. Navy had to swallow hard each
time it permitted a woman to enter its once exclusive Antarctic domain.
Long ago, I had broken this tradition on my husband's 1946-48 private
expedition when I spent a year on the other side of the Continent. But,
now my safety was clearly the Navy's responsibility. Mentally, I cringed
at the sticky situation, and could only surmise the assessment that must
be taking place.
As time wore on, the dingy hut took on new
dimensions. In spite of a New Zealand Government notice cautioning all
visitors from removing any item whatsoever from the historic shrine, we
began to eye the corroded cans of Bird's Egg Powder, Cabbage, Ox Tongue,
weathered boxes of hard tack biscuits, and suspected bottles of brandy
with more than casual indifference. Only a musty bottle on the medical
shelf labeled as the remedy for diarrhea and dysentery provided the
Dirty torn socks, worn mukluks, inadequate
shoes, old blankets, well used pieces of canvass and unappealing seal
skins, covered with layers of volcanic dust had been fascinating testimony
to the hardships of long past era when we first arrived. Now, the longer
we remained the cleaner the surroundings appeared. Subconsciously, each of
us picked out a corner or niche on a hard bench which might possibly
afford some relative comfort during the forthcoming night. Every 30
minutes or so we had to move around to keep our circulation going. There
was a stove. Had there been fuel, a note indicating the old relic did not
function property dissuaded us from the probable fire hazard. Clearly, an
overnight experience under these conditions would separate "the men from
Fortunately, no one was put to the ultimate
test. During one of our forays out for exercise, we noticed a small break
in the dense cloud cover. Slowly, the patch began to grow. We were
enthralled. When the sun finally broke through, eighteen elated visitors
bounded up the volcanic slag hill to the waiting helicopters without a
backward glance. Someone up there had delayed our moment of truth.
Forty-five minutes later we were thawing out in McMurdo's familiar
surroundings. The episode made a believer out of me. Never again did I go
further than the mess hall without taking my own survival gear.
My husband died in 1980, and although, I
continue to give spot lectures, as before, there was every reason to
believe my active Antarctic "career" was over. However, some twenty-three
years after having accompanying him to the Pole, I returned to the Base on
Stonington Island, Palmer Peninsula, where we had spent a year on the
Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition forty-seven years before. I was the
guest lecturer in February 1995 on Abercrombie and Kent's tourist cruise
ship Explorer. Their unpublicized objective was to get me back to our
Base, which had recently become the First American Historic Site in
Antarctica. Ice conditions being what they are in that area, I gave them a
thirty percent chance of penetrating the pack ice. We were unbelievably
lucky, and made it, within that year's two and a half week ice free span.
I had never expected to get back and gaze upon
that magnificent scenery again. But, what made it doubly thrilling, was
that my daughter, Karen Ronne Tupek, was with me, becoming the fourth
member of the Ronne family to visit the world's most spectacular
The trip reawakened and renewed my interest. I
am planning to return in January and February 1996, as a guest lecturer,
(along with Sir Edmund Hillary), when Orient Lines ship Marco Polo, will
semi-circumnavigate the continent from Palmer Peninsula to McMurdo Station
in the Ross Sea and from there to Christchurch, N.Z. Currently, I am
preparing a manuscript of my Antarctic experiences by utilizing my diary,
which graphically depicts my historic year there in 1947 - 48.
The following article appeared in The
Washington Post, April 5, 1995
Jackie Ronne's Return Trip to an Antarctic
by Judith Weinraub, Washington Post Staff
Women do things for love they might not do in
their right minds: Ignore infidelities. Raise other women's children. Rob
Edith "Jackie" Ronne spent 15 months in a
12-by-12 hut in Antarctica.
She went there in 1946, two years into her
marriage to a drop-dead handsome naval officer and explorer. Finn Ronne,
who had two previous polar expeditions to his credit, returned south after
World War II to survey the last unknown coastline in the world, a 650-mile
stretch along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Somehow, he talked his reluctant wife into
accompanying him on a six-week voyage to the land of icecaps, seals and
"I was ready to do anything for him," says
Ronne of her husband, whose father, Martin Ronne, was also a polar
In late February Jackie Ronne, 75, a widow
since 1980, extended the family saga by taking her daughter Karen on a
cruise to the base camp that housed her husband's expedition. Although
she'd been back to Antarctica, she hadn't seen the camp since they left in
the spring of 1948. "It's an extremely difficult place to get to," she
says. "The icy conditions make it hard. You have to hit it just right.
"I never thought I'd return," she says, for it
was more than the ice and cold that made life difficult -- so difficult,
in fact, that she'd never reread her Antarctica diaries.
Jackie and Finn Ronne (pronounced "Ronnie")
met on a blind date in wartime Washington. He was 42, Norwegian-born,
divorced, glamorous -- a man who had driven dog teams hundreds of miles
across the Antarctic, exploring uncharted sections of the continent. She
was 22, a George Washington University graduate living with her aunt and
uncle in Chevy Chase who bused downtown each day to a typing and filing
job at the State Department and worried that nothing exciting ever
happened to her.
She was making her way through the ranks when
friends matched the two up because they both skied -- though Jackie was
just starting and Finn was a competitive ski-jumper. They courted for a
year, hiking along the Appalachian Trail, biking when gasoline was scarce,
rolling back the rug and dancing on her aunt and uncle's highly polished
hardwood floors. March 18 would have been their 51st wedding anniversary.
When they married, Finn promised her he'd
never go back to the Antarctic. "Fortunately," says his widow, "I didn't
The land -- with its earthquake shocks and
rocks, its trying temperatures -- was his obsession. And he wanted to
command his own expedition.
A trained geographer and naval engineer, Finn
Ronne began raising money as soon as the war was over, but it was a
struggle. And his former expedition leader, the renowned (and influential)
Adm. Richard E. Byrd -- by then a rival -- was not supportive. To this day
Jackie Ronne holds Byrd accountable for unexpected minefields her husband
encountered establishing the expedition, and for its shoestring budget of
$50,000. (He had originally hoped to raise $150,000.)
The dangers of the expedition were real: the
blizzards that could kill a man in an hour, the hidden crevasses, the
icebergs, the way the white landscape could trick the mind. But newspaper
stories about Ronne's plans prompted 1,100 volunteers. Ronne chose 21,
some with polar experience, some with much-needed flying, medical or
mechanical skills, others with a taste for adventure.
Jackie Ronne didn't share their daring. She
agreed to accompany the explorers to Beaumont, Tex., where their boat was
waiting, but that was it. "I was sad," she recalls. "I expected him to be
gone for 15 months, and I knew I would miss him tremendously, but I was
comfortable with the arrangement."
In Beaumont, Ronne persuaded her to stay with
the group until it got to Panama. But as the ship made its way down the
Chilean coast toward Cape Horn, Ronne urged his wife to commit to the
whole trip. Because English was not his first language, Ronne needed his
wife's help writing the articles he'd committed to for the North American
Newspaper Alliance, which had provided some funding.
Even now, almost 50 years later, she recalls
the arguments she made in a hotel room in Valparaiso -- the last place she
could change her mind.
"No woman had ever gone that far south, and
the crew was suspicious," she says. "And my family was very conservative.
They would never go after headlines. My aunt was frantic. . . . And I was
afraid that if I went with him, people would say he took me along for the
"But he was very, very persistent."
When she finally decided to stay with him,
Jackie Ronne realized that all she had brought along to wear were cocktail
dresses and nylon stockings -- "everything I would have had for two weeks
So, in Punta Arenas, Chile, she disembarked to
purchase nightgowns, slippers and a robe, ski boots and general
necessities, plus knitting wool and needles to while away the evenings
during the long antarctic winter. (The Army Air Corps had supplied cold
weather clothing that it wanted tested.)
"I was in love with him," she says simply. "I
would have done anything to support the expedition, even stay behind. I
would have gone to the moon. It was the moon." Every night throughout the
15-month expedition, she recorded the day's activities and challenges --
and her own comments. She filled three notebooks -- the first in a
school-size copybook, the next two in ship's logs.
But until three months ago, when she began
preparations for her recent trip, she hadn't looked at the diary in 47
years. "I didn't want to be reminded of the pain," she says.
"I wasn't prepared for the bickering and
in-fighting," she says sadly. "People don't get along well in isolation."
The stresses of the expedition were apparent
almost immediately. In isolation, emotions festered, and without warning,
small disagreements became serious disputes. In particular, tensions
emerged with a young pilot and his new wife who was the second woman in
the group. "We never exchanged a harsh word," says Ronne now, "but there
was a period where we didn't speak at all."
The physical challenges were more
straightforward. Even though Finn Ronne headed for familiar territory, his
old base camp on Stonington Island, it was a demanding, stormy place, with
blinding winter blizzards and inaccessible, ice-packed harbors. And the
days were filled with difficulties and dangers.
Reaching Antarctica just before the winter
freeze, there was a great deal to do. The base was uninhabitable for
humans or dog teams without repairs. Supplies, including three small
planes, 100 55-gallon drums of high-octane gas and all their scientific
instruments, had to be unloaded and stored.
And after dark, there wasn't much to do except
play cards, watch movies, study navigation and worry.
"I was constantly worried," Ronne says. "The
Antarctic is a dangerous place. You can turn your back and find somebody
in great difficulty. The door to our hut was open 24 hours a day to report
emergency situations. . . . One of our men went down a crevasse and was
stuck upside down for 12 hours before help came. Until the rescue team got
back, nobody slept. Nobody thought he would ever come out alive. Finn was
beginning to worry about what he should do with the body."
Beyond the immediate challenges, the Ronnes'
underlying concern was the success of the expedition. "I was always
worried about it," she says. "But actually the tensions didn't affect it
very much. My husband had a firm hand over what was going on."
When the year was over, she was proud: proud
of the success of the expedition, proud to have been the first American
woman to set foot on the continent, proud that she and Finn were the first
couple to reach the South Pole and that she was the first non-royal woman
to have an Antarctic site -- an ice shelf -- named after her.
But she was glad to leave it behind. "When I
saw the Statue of Liberty on my return, I felt the same as any immigrant.
The sight was a relief and release to me." Jackie Ronne has lived quietly
since her husband's death, traveling, spending time with her family and
using her Antarctic expertise lecturing and writing encyclopedia articles.
The embassy dinners and parties disappeared immediately, of course. "But I
don't crave social Washington," she says. "I've been there."
Her home in Bethesda has the understated look
of a house designed to set off memorabilia. The framed photographs and
maps. A toy-size hickory sledge her husband made to pass the Antarctic
hours. A radiogram from Byrd asking him to join the admiral's second
And penguins everywhere. Mounted and stuffed,
in the living room hall. On pendants and earrings. Potholders.
Refrigerator magnets. The shower curtain. "Most people don't even know
that penguins are from the southern hemisphere," she says.
She knew about Antarctic cruises but never
wanted to go on one until late last year when she was asked to plan "an
ultimate field trip" for a group of college scientists. The Society of
Women Geographers signed on too, and the Washington branch of the
Ronne worked with the Chicago-based
Abercrombie & Kent agency, which regularly tours the area, to plan the
trip. Together with daughter Karen, 44, as the stars of a well-heeled
group of 92, a different Jackie Ronne set off than the explorer's young
wife -- an older woman who swims to stay in shape and delighted in finding
penguin rookeries and buying T-shirts for her grandchildren.
The journey was not for the faint-hearted. The
weather was just as difficult and the ice as treacherous. "The wind was
incredibly strong, a gale force," says Ann Hawthorne, a photographer and
family friend who was on the trip.
The access to the Stonington Island base was
just as unpredictable. "We had to get through pack ice to get in," says
Ronne. "But the captain and crew were determined to get me there."
Since their ship was too large to get through
the icy coastlines, land was reached by large, hard-to-maneuver rubber
rafts. When the rafts couldn't get any closer, the stalwart walked the
rest of the way, wearing several layers of clothing, parkas and high
boots. "And the clothes got really heavy when they got wet," says Ronne.
Her ultimate goal was the 1946 base camp and
the hut she had shared with her husband. Ronne was determined to show her
daughter where she'd spent those long months. As the two climbed the
100-yard hillside to the camp, they had to negotiate thigh-high snow, and
almost turned back. To propel them forward, Hawthorne told jokes when they
"It was important to get Jackie to that base,"
she says. "It was a walk of discovery back in time."
Was Ronne reliving her life? "To a certain
extent," she says now, describing with dismay the uninhabitable buildings
she discovered. "When a base is left, it's legitimately considered
abandoned in the high seas. But I wanted to fix up what was broken, iced
over, ripped out. And I wondered what happened to our 5,000-pound galley
range and curtained bunks." And she hadn't anticipated the images of
"hurdles and vicissitudes" that she says came flooding back.
When Ronne left the camp a few hours later,
she closed the door firmly, shutting out the wind and snow and -- perhaps
-- some of her memories. "I wouldn't have given up that experience for a
million dollars," she says. "Nor would I ever have done it again."
But she just might take another cruise there.
One that heads on east into South Georgia tempts her. "There's something
about the Antarctic that draws you back," she says. "You might have had it
up to your eyebrows, but after a while, the raw, icy magnificence brings
Ronne (b. 1919) was a U.S.
explorer of Antarctica.
She married Finn Ronne on March 18, 1941, and on the expedition of 1946 -
1948, that her husband commanded, she and Jennie Darlington, the wife of
the expedition's chief pilot, became the first women to over-winter in
Antarctica. They spent 15 months together with five other member of the
expedition in a small station they had set up on Stonington Island in
Edith Ronne Land was named after her by her husband, who discovered the
coastline and claimed the interior land as well. When it was
determined to be mostly ice shelf, the name was changed to Edith Ronne Ice
Shelf. At her request, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names removed
her first name, so that the Ronne Ice Shelf would more correspond to the
continent's other large ice shelf, the Ross Ice Shelf..
Edith Ronne returned several times to Antarctica, including on a
Navy-sponsored flight to the South Pole in 1971 to commemorate the 60th
anniversary of Roald Amundsen first reaching the South Pole (she was the
seventh woman at the pole), and a 1995 trip back to her former base at
Stonington Island as guest lecturer on the expedition cruise ship
Another Bio of Jackie, with
much about The Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition:
Edith (commonly known as “Jackie”) Ronne was
an important Antarctic explorer who was one of the first two women to
winter over in Antarctica. Her husband, Cdr. Finn Ronne, USNR, led the
Ronne Research Expedition (RARE) of 1947-48. This was “the last large
private expedition to Antarctica. It explored both coasts of the Antarctic
Peninsula and the Weddell Sea’s southern coast, both on the ground and
with three ski-equipped aircraft loaned by the U.S. Army Air Force.” [Jeff
Rubin, “A Rare Reunion,” The Polar Times, vol. 3 no. 6, January 2005, p.
Finn was Norwegian-born and educated, and already a veteran of two
Antarctic expeditions, including the second Byrd expedition and the U.S.
Antarctic Service Expedition. He was the son of Martin Ronne who,
as a sail maker on the Fram, had accompanied Amundsen to Antarctica, and
served with him for twenty years. Martin also took part in Byrd Antarctic
Expedition I [1928-1930].
Finn was a remarkably self-disciplined
man, well known for his lifelong excellent physical condition, and who had
skied all over the Antarctic continent. Finn and Jackie, a State
Department employee at the time, who graduated from George Washington
University in 1940, met in Washington, D.C. in 1942. They were married on
March 18, 1944.
as WWII ended, Finn began planning another expedition. Admiral Richard E.
Byrd, a friend of Finn’s at the time, who lived only a block away, urged
Finn to join forces with him, but Finn insisted on his own independent,
private operation. Although Finn and Byrd had served together on the
United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-41, Byrd did his utmost
to torpedo Finn’s plans for his independent venture. Byrd even demanded
that Finn give him all of his detailed plans, which reluctantly Finn did.
These were then presented as Byrd’s own plans for his own expedition;
according to Jackie not even the wording of the proposal was changed. It
seemed clear to Jackie that Finn’s erstwhile friend, Admiral Byrd, had
Despite Byrd’s strong opposition, there were still
many offers of help to Finn, including Sir George Hubert Wilkins, General
Curtis LeMay, Ed Sweeney, a long-time friend, the Office of Naval
Research, and Allen Scaife, of the wealthy Mellon family of Pittsburgh.
Although Byrd’s fierce opposition failed to stop Finn’s expedition, it did
succeed in limiting necessary funding. Less than $50,000 was raised, and
many participants were unpaid volunteers. Thanks to General LeMay, several
military personnel were “seconded” to the expedition, including the two
principal pilots. The Air Force also donated three planes, equipment,
spare parts, and clothing. As Finn worked constantly on planning his
expedition, Jackie’s initial role was to edit and type all of his
correspondence. At this same time, at the end of 1946, as he was
presenting his proposal, Finn also served on the Task Force that created
the Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, and he assisted Thor Heyerdahl in
planning his trip across the Pacific on a balsam raft.
The Ronne Antarctic
Research Expedition (RARE) departed for Antarctica from Beaumont, Texas,
on January 27, 1947. Among the key personnel were the pilots Harry
Darlington, Jimmy Lassiter and Lieutenant Chuck Adams, and the aerial
photographer, Bill Latady, who used a trimetrigon camera to capture a
horizon-to-horizon scan. There were three planes – a twin engine C-45
Beech, a Noordwyn C-64 Norseman, and a Stinson L-5. When one of the planes
was damaged beyond repair while loading, General LeMay found them an exact
As she has recounted in her diary, which she kept every day of the
trip, Jackie originally had no intention of going to Antarctica with the
Expedition. Only the extreme persuasive powers of her husband, Finn,
ultimately persuaded her to go. Since his native language was Norwegian,
he needed her to write English-language articles for the North American
Newspaper Alliance. These were written under Finn’s name, and for a long
time the press was unaware that both she and her friend, Jenny Darlington,
were along. Both women faced strong opposition from their own family
members (Harry Darlington, the pilot, at first was adamant that his wife
should not go) and from some male crew members, who said they wanted no
women onboard. Ultimately most of the men were supportive. One original
doubter, Chuck Hassage, became Jackie’s life long friend.
decision for the women to continue on to Antarctica was made in
Valparaiso, Chile, where they purchased some essential clothing items
including boots. A total stranger gave Jackie knitting needles that she
used frequently; in fact, some of her knitting made with those needles is
on display in the Naval Museum. The last port of call was Punta Arenas
where the sea proved to be surprisingly calm even as they crossed Drake
Lake. Walter Smith was the navigator, and always did an excellent job.
Jackie’s first approach to Antarctica was incredible, the “experience of a
lifetime.” The ship anchored alongside the Antarctic (Palmer) Peninsula
right in front of the British base built there during the war.
initial awkward interactions, the British soon became good friends, and
the British commander, Ken Butler, spent many congenial evenings in the Ronne’s hut. Other prominent British participants were Kevin Walton,
Charles Swithenbank, and Bernard Stonehouse. The latter was one of three
British men rescued by pilots Lassiter and Adams after their plane, a
small Auster, crashed on the Weddell Sea coast.
The role of the airplanes
was of the utmost important to the Expedition. Unfortunately the weather
was usually difficult or unpredictable. During the whole time the flying
season took place, there were only eight good flying days. Peterson and
Bob Dodson traveled by dog team to the upper plateau to establish a
weather station to support the planes. While there, Peterson fell in a
crevasse, but Dodson was able to ski back to the base for help. A search
party was organized immediately in the dark. The British doctor, Budson,
not only volunteered to go, but later was lowered into the crevasse to
rescue Peterson who, incredibly, was still alive. He had been lodged
upside down in the crevasse for twelve hours. His recovery was complete,
but Finn was furious with both men since their disregard for rules of
safety had led to this costly misfortune. The men were not roped properly,
their sleeping bags were soaked, and Peterson stepped on the radio key and
broke it. Both were largely confined to the island base for the remainder
of the Expedition.
Another potential disaster was narrowly averted when
[?] McClary fell off a 150 foot ice cliff, and through thin ice into the
water. Fortunately, help was nearby and he was pulled to safety. Later he
suffered a broken collarbone in a sledding accident.
Jackie spent most of
her time in the 12 square foot hut she shared with Finn, although she
usually ate her meals with the group. There were no private toilet
facilities for women. All had to visit the “little house on the hill” no
matter what the weather. All of the men acted always as “perfect
gentlemen” in the presence of Jackie and Jenny Darlington. She experienced
a great deal of tension as “everything that happened worried me.” She
vowed, “I will never, never go to the Antarctic again,” but recently she
finished her thirteenth trip there.
Over time, tension developed between
Finn and Harry Darlington. Harry was third in command behind Finn and Ike Schlossback. Initially a close personal friend, Harry reportedly was
undermining Finn behind his back. On several occasions Harry entered
Finn’s tent “screaming” about the dangers of the flights he had been
assigned. Finally, Finn could tolerate no more such insubordination, and
dismissed him. Lassiter and Adams took over Darlington’s assignments. The
two pilots never had any accidents or trouble, scouted unknown territory,
and earned commendations from the Air Force. Ike Schlossback also wanted
to fly. He was a trained pilot who had commanded surface vessels,
underwater vessels, and a flight squadron, and was the only person in the
Navy at the time who had done all three. But he only had one eye, and Finn
never allowed him to take a plane up.
Harry was never reinstated despite
pleas from certain friends, and later complained to Finn about the several
short flights that Jackie made as a passenger. Jenny tried unsuccessfully
to smooth things over with Finn and Harry. After the weather station had
been established on the other side of the 6,000 foot-high plateau, an
advance base at Cape Keeler was created. It was mainly an underground
base, covered by snow, and connected by tunnels, but there was a command
tent on the surface. There were caves going out from tent where people
could stay with sleeping bags.
Two planes, the Norseman and the Beechcraft,
departed south from Cape Keeler on exploring missions in the rare
intervals of good flying weather. On one such flight Finn discovered
Berkner Island, in the middle of the later-named Ronne Ice Shelf.
teams were never flown into the field, although occasionally a sick dog
was flown back to base. The Chief Geologist, Bob Nichols, led a
fifteen-dog team that gathered rocks, did glaciology, measured solar
radiation and atmospheric refraction, and operated a cosmic ray machine.
His party spent 105 days in the field. This broke the previous record of
84 days for a sledging trip set by Finn and Carl Eklund seven years
earlier. Finn became irritated when Nichol’s party did not keep regular
Jackie developed a personal interest in science, and she
worked as an assistant to Andy Thompson, a seismologist, who measured the
first earthquake recorded in Antarctica, and recorded tides.
1948, as warmer weather returned to Antarctica, and the sea ice began to
melt, preparations for departure from Stonington Island were made.
Gasoline supplies were low, and the flying program was over. The year in
Antarctica had come to an end. An icebreaker cleared a path to the open
sea. Rough seas hampered the trip northward, and food was running low. It
was necessary to make an unscheduled stop in Punta Arenas. Here Jackie
enjoyed her first fresh salads and vegetables in some months.
Darlington was pregnant, and she and Harry flew home from there. The ship
proceeded up the west coast of South America, through the Panama Canal,
and on to New York. Here the American Geographical Society hosted by Sir
George Hubert Wilkins honored the party. Lincoln Ellsworth was also
present. It was a wonderful occasion, but even so Jackie said
emphatically, “I will never, never, never go back to the Antarctic.”
the lure proved irresistible, and she returned many times. She was a
passenger on the first tourist cruise ever to the Antarctic. The ship
visited Deception Island and an Argentine base. In 1971, Jackie and Finn
were flown to the South Pole in Navy planes. A base, including the South
Pole Dome, was under construction there, and Jackie and Finn made a radio
broadcast to Lowell Thomas directly from the pole.
In 1995, as a lecturer
on the Explorer, she and her daughter, Karen, visited the old base from
the RARE expedition. Nothing was left. It was totally empty. Everything
had been stolen by various nationalities coming down. Even the 300-pound
cooking range was gone. Later the National Science Foundation sent Mike Parfit to restore and preserve the base. Jackie returned a year later, but
once again everything was stolen. “It was sad to see how the base had
changed, and how everything had been stolen from it.”
In recent years,
Jackie has continued to lecture on the Explorer and the Marco Polo. Finn
was the leader of the first Lindblad tourist cruises to Antarctica.
Reflecting on her long association with the Antarctic, Jackie is thankful
for her first trip in 1947-48, one that created all sorts of later
opportunities. “It made my life.”
She has since traveled and lectured
throughout the world. “The Ronne expedition achieved a great deal,
exploring more than 250,000 square miles of Antarctica. By overflying the
Antarctic continent’s, and the world’s, last major stretch of unexplored
coast, along the Weddell Sea from the Antarctic Peninsula to Coats Land,
the expedition determined that the Weddell and Ross Seas were not
connected. In 346 hours of flight time, including 86 landings in the
field, RARE took nearly 14,000 photographs covering 450,000 square miles.”
[Jeff Rubin, The Polar Times, vol. 3 no. 6, January 2005, p. 4.]
Society of Woman Geographers:
1936 38. BA, George Washington University 1940, History and English.
Ronne was the first woman to set foot on the continent of Antarctica and
stay, when she wintered-over there in 1947 48 as a member of her husband
Finn Ronne's Antarctic Research Expedition at East Base on Stonington
Island. The interview describes her family background, childhood,
education, and activities after her Antarctic experience, but the bulk of
the interview provides a detailed personal account of the expedition, its
planning and preparation and various personalities, including Admiral
Richard Byrd, who were involved in one way or another. Her account also
refers to other historical events involving Antarctica and polar
exploration. Member Explorers Club. Joined SWG 1948. Carried SWG flag to
the South Pole in 1971 for celebration of 60th anniversary of Amundsen's
reaching the pole. SWG President 1978 1981.
featured on an "Adventures
of the Elements" game card:
Born Edith Anna Maslin on October 13, 1919, Jackie was riased in a
conservative Baltimore family. In the 1930's, Baltimore, Maryland did
not believe in co-education in their public schools so she graduated
from Eastman High School at 16 without ever having a date. Jackie
attended George Washington University, joined Phi Mu Sorority, had a
great social life, and in 1940 graduated with a major in history and a
minor in English. She worked for the U.S. State Department. In 1942, she
met the polar explorer Captain Finn Ronne on a blind date and enjoyed
his maturity (Finn was 20 years her senior), nationality, "charming"
foreign accent, and stories of exploration. Finn proposed to Jackie in
1943 and they were married on March 18, 1944.
The Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition departed from Beaumont, Texas on
January 25, 1947 where Finn selected Beaumont Eagle Scout Arthur Owne to
join the expedition. Jackie edited all of Finn's correspondence and
reports and was to be in charge of the domestic side of the expedition.
However, instead of remaining Stateside, she resigned her position with
the State Department to accompany her hustband on his fiteen month
expedition. As the expedition's historian, Jackie wrote the news
releases for the NORTH AMERICAN NEWSPAPER ALLIANCE nd kept a daily
history of the expedition's accomplishments. She also made routine daily
seismographic and tidal observations.
Jackie Ronne became the first American woman to set foot on Antarctica.
Before her, only the wife of a Norwegian whaling captain had briefly
visited. No woman ahd ever lived in the Antractic before Jackie. The
400,000 square mile are nearly discovered by the Ronne Expedition was
named EDITH RONNE LAND, making one of the very few land areas honoring a
woman of non-royal birth. After 20 years on the maps, the feature was
renamed RONNE ICE SHELF. In 1971, she accompanied her husband to the
South Pole Station, as the first husband and wife team and seventh woman
to do so, in observance of the 60th Anniversary of Amundsen's attainment
of the Pole on December 14, 1911 (on which Finn Ronne's father, Martin
Ronne, was a member).
Jackie returned to Beaumont on Novermber 11, 2004 for the opening of the
Ronne Expedition and Aruthur Own Museum Exhibit at the Clifton Steamboat
Museum, the debut of the book Antarctica's First Lady, a reunion of
surviving crew members from the expedition, and the unveiling of this
character card. Philanthropist, historian, and Clifton Steamboat Museum
curator, David Hearn, Jr., made this event possible by funding the
publication of her book and the museum exhibit.
AMONG THE ICEBERGS
By Georgia Tasker
Edith "Jackie" Ronne, a former president
of the Society of Woman Geographers, is a grand dame of the white
continent--one of two women who were the first to spend the winter of
1946-47 in Antarctica. This year as a guest lecturer aboard the cruise
ship Marco Polo as it sailed in January and February 2000, half way around
the icy landmass, Jackie, 80 completed her 13th trip. What draws her is
the camaraderie of people who understand the splendor of its mountains,
ice sheets and glaciers; people who also feel the pull of the most
untrammeled wilderness left in the world. People who want to talk about
the ice, the penguins, and the explorers and the expedition of her late
husband, Norwegian explorer Finn Ronne.
Jackie made her first trip on a wooden
ship with a 37-foot beam and 2,750 horsepower diesel engines. The goal of
the privately-funded Ronne expedition was to map the world's last unknown
shoreline between Coats Land and Palmer Land, now known as the Ronne Ice
Shelf. Twenty men were selected from several hundred applications. The
ship was loaded in Beaumont, Tex., and stopped at Valparaiso, Chile for
additional supplies. There, Finn convinced his young wife to go with him
and write stories for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Jackie, who
had expected to say goodbye in Chile, said ruefully: "I had packed a suit,
a dress, high heels and nylon stockings"--not exactly Antarctic gear.
Nonetheless, she agreed, and asked Jennie Darlington, wife of the Harry
Darlington, second in command, to go as well.
Finn Ronne, a Norwegian, was the son of
Martin Ronne who
had traveled with Roald Amundsun and Richard Byrd to Antarctica. Finn, a
ship's architect and marine engineer, emigrated to the United States in
1923 and later joined an expedition led by William Byrd in 1933. He met
and married Jackie in Washington, D.C. during the war.
From Valparaiso it was a memorable
crossing of the Drake Passage, the roughest seas in the world. At times,
the ship, called the Port of Beaumont, rolled 52 degrees from side to
side. And when they reached the peninsula, they had to ram through pack
ice three to seven feet thick. Their camp on the mainland near Stonington
Island was the first American base in the Antarctic. and is the only one
left. Jackie and Finn had a 12-foot-square "home" for the winter joined by
a tunnel to the main bunkhouse where the crew stayed. The Darlingtons also
had separate space. Dogs were taken along for transport on short trips.
The '46-47 Ronne expedition did, indeed,
map the ice shelf, later named after Ronne. However, the trip was not
without its trouble. Darlington and Finn clashed on several occasions, and
Finn fired him. So Darlington was stuck in the Antarctic with nothing to
do but make trouble, Jackie maintains. She speculates that men don't get
along with each other in isolation over a period of time. "As the leader's
wife, I was under pressure all the time. Jenny and I got
along fine; it was the husbands who
didn't." Still, the wives, out of loyalty to their husbands, rarely spoke.
Throughout that winter, Jackie sent weather reports back to Washington and
wrote newspaper stories. She kept a detailed diary and used it to help
Finn write Antarctic Conquest. "That's probably why I never wrote a book
myself," she said. Jennie Darlington wrote My Antarctic Honeymoon, about
the winter's events. Only now has Jackie edited her diary and sent a
manuscript to an agent.
In 1971, Jackie was flown to the South
Pole for the 60th anniversary of its discovery by Norwegian Roald Amundsun.
"It was the highlight of my life," she said. "After all, I had married it.
And I was finally there." In 1995, along with her daughter, Karen Tupek,
Jackie went back to the Stonington base for the first time since 1947. "On
that first trip back, when we crossed the Antarctic Circle, I felt very
... sentimental, crossing without Finn." Once there, she found everything
in the hut was gone. Every bunk, even the 3000-pound galley range.
Jackie has lectured for years on the
history of Antarctic exploration and on the Marco Polo she riveted her
audience with talks and narration of a film about the expedition. This
year, she made four trips to Antarctica, one right after the other. The
last was the 23 day voyage that began in Ushuaia, Argentina, and ended in
Christchurch, New Zealand. Each one, she tells her daughter, will be the
"But I might have to go again just to make
it an even number."
First Lady" by Edith M. "Jackie" Ronne
Memoirs of the first American woman to set
foot on the Antarctic Continent and the first woman to winter over as a
working member of a pioneering Antarctic expedition. That was her
husband's Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition, 1946-48. She was a
witness to the fascinating days of polar exploration.Ronne Ice Shelf was
named for her.
To order book, click HERE
Member, Ronne Antarctic Research
Expedition (1946 - 1948)
As she left home her
suitcase contained little more than a good suit, a good dress, nylon
stockings, and high heeled shoes. But she had the excuse that she didn’t
know she was going for a year’s expedition to Antarctica. Little did
Jackie Ronne realize this was the beginning of a series of events that led
her to make history and to become a unique celebrity, as well as an
important woman pioneer. The year was 1947.
This book is a personal
account by the first American woman to set foot on the earth’s seventh
continent, and the first woman ever to be a working member of a pioneering
expedition to explore the vast Antarctic wilderness. This historic
achievement is recognized in a truly extra-ordinary way, one usually
accorded only to women of royal birth: the Ronne Ice Shelf, the world’s
second largest, is named for her.
This first-hand chronicle
includes her upbringing as well as the background of her Norwegian
husband’s polar heritage, one she was destined to follow. She shares her
personal insights, fears, reactions, and emotions about the unfolding
events on an expedition that made important geographical and scientific
discoveries, as well as human drama. Her recounting of the expedition
features many excerpts from her expedition diary and highlights the day to
day workings of this small-scale but ambitious expedition. The struggles
of this group of scientists, ship’s crew, and maintenance personnel are
punctuated by the challenges of maintaining cordial interpersonal
relationships in severe isolation.
Men rebelled; other members
retaliated; a pilot was fired, but remained in camp; a meteorologist fell
into a crevasse, miraculously escaping death; another pilot walked into a
rotating propeller and lived; the first mate fell off a high cliff into
the icy seas; - all set against the meticulous scientific exploration
that took place in and around the most dramatic, dangerous, yet beautiful
scenery in the world. It is a classic study of human endurance and a
Martin Ronne, her husband’s
father, had been a member of Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen’s
expedition. He made the small tent that Amundsen left at the South Pole
signifying his December 14-17, 1911, arrival. Martin remained with
Amundsen through twenty years of polar exploration and subsequently became
the only member of Admiral Richard Byrd’s first expedition who had ever
been to Antarctica before. Upon Martin’s death in 1931, his son, Finn
Ronne, immediately followed in his father’s footsteps as a natural
extension of his Norwegian heritage. Finn accompanied Admiral Byrd on his
second expedition and was soon hooked on the polar regions. He helped
organized a U.S. government expedition in 1940, when he sited and built
the camp of four buildings that later also became home to the Ronne
expedition. The smallest hut, 12’ x 12’, became Jackie’s home for a year.
How Jackie Made History:
When Jackie’s husband,
Captain Finn Ronne, first organized the Ronne Antarctic Research
Expedition in 1946, she intended to handle its affairs Stateside. While
bidding her husband good-bye during the hectic departure, he asked Jackie
to help with the last minute details, in increments while they headed
south. Finn ultimately persuade her to accompany his expedition as
Historian and Correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. To
avoid becoming the “first and only,” another woman went as well, but had
no official expedition role. As she gathered last minute supplies in
Chile, Jackie resigned from her State Department position, and a new
Jackie’s Experience on The Ronne
Antarctic Research Expedition:
Jackie was completely
unprepared for the truly magnificent scenery of that desolated southern
continent. She writes,
“Once within the Antarctic Circle, our 183 foot, wooden hull ship slowly
made her way through the light pack-ice belt that surrounds the Continent
at all times. Under the brilliant sun, the shimmering icebergs and the
snowcapped mountain peaks stood in great contrast to the vivid blue sky
and cobalt sea. Heavily crevassed glaciers descended through the majestic
mountain passes ending in a 200 foot high frozen ice shelf which, with few
exceptions, encircles the 5,200,000 square mile land mass.”
Once their ship was securely
anchored in a cove off Stonington Island, in Marguerite Bay, they moved
ashore scientific equipment, food for two years, dogs, three airplanes,
gasoline, 30 tons of coal, and innumerable other materials. The 12-foot
square hut she shared with her husband connected to the mess hall bunk
house by a short tunnel. During the long dark winternight, she learned
first hand of the tedious hard work required to carry on investigations in
twelve branches of science under harsh polar conditions. Later, Jackie
assisted their geophysicist in some of his work and wrote many articles
describing expedition progress for radio transmittal to the N.Y. Times.
For recreation, they watched movies, listened to music, read, played
games, and skied on the adjacent glacier.
thrust of this book is her diary, which recorded the daily progress of the
expedition, as well as how men act in isolation, revealing their petty
jealousies and childish antics to get what they wanted or else revenge.
Tensions built up during the long dark winternight and took their toll.
Originally, they had no agenda of their own, but once away from
civilization, personalities change, developing their own desires, petty
jealousies, and childish antics to get what they wanted while jeopardizing
relationships and the goals of the expedition. In the end, it was triumph
over adversities of two kinds – the harsh elements of the Antarctic and
the psychological stress of isolation.
In recognition of the
family’s long involvement in Antarctic exploration, Jackie and Finn were
invited by the Department of Defense on a flight to the South Pole in
December 1971, honoring Amundsen’s 60th anniversary of reaching the Pole.
They became the first husband and wife team to set foot at the South
Pole. This was her husband’s ninth and last journey south over a 38 year
span, including four overwinterings. But it was not to be the last one
for Jackie, as she continues to be drawn back to the haunting beauty and
abundant animal life that characterizes the frozen continent at the end of
the earth, making three more trips as a lecturer on cruise ships with
Edith M. “Jackie” Ronne
I started out for a year's stay on the Antarctic
continent with one small suitcase that held a good suit, a good dress,
nylon stockings and high heel shoes - clothes about as suitable as Eskimo
furs on a South Sea Island. But I had the excuse that I didn't know I was
going until the last moment; my husband, the leader of The Ronne Antarctic
Research Expedition (1946-48), finally persuaded me that he needed me.
This book is my personal account as the first American woman to set foot
on the earth’s seventh continent and the first woman ever to have been a
working member of an Antarctic Expedition.
Although I had lived vicariously through my husband’s
previous Antarctic expeditions, I was completely unprepared for the truly
magnificent scenery of that southern continent. Under the brilliant sun,
the shimmering icebergs and the snow-capped mountain peaks languished
against the vivid blue sky and a cobalt sea, punctuated with the antics of
penguins. Little did I know what was to come: a meteorologist fell into a
crevasse; a pilot walked into a rotating propeller; a small plane from a
nearby British base crash landed in unknown territory without a radio; Men
rebelled; others retaliated; a pilot was fired, but remained in camp;
attempts were made at sabotage; and a pilot’s wife who had been taken
along as my companion ended up barely speaking to me. There were many
times I wondered how I had ever been talked into coming and counted the
months until we would be heading north once more.
Against the back-drop of human drama, the
expedition made important geographical and scientific discoveries. Upon
the return, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names called the largest newly
discovered area, Edith Ronne Land. Today it is known simply as the Ronne
or nearly fifty years, people have asked
me why I did not write a book about my Antarctic experiences, particularly
those that took place on the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition. I kept
a very complete diary for that year which has never been published. In
fact, it took me forty-seven years before I had the desire or courage
enough to read it again. I had not wanted to relive the experience so
closely again. After many years had passed and I was no longer so
emotionally involved, I realized as the wife of the expedition’s leader I
was the only one who could tell this story. Not only is this an
historical account of the human triumphs and deficiencies of men and women
in isolation on this particular expedition, but an example of the
break-down of human reaction of people in isolation on expeditions past
and present throughout history.
Over the years, I have talked, written and
lectured widely about my experiences on the expedition, but I have never
once revealed how I personally felt about them. It was too hard, too
close to me; in many respects too painful. When I finally mustered the
courage to face the day to day occurrences written in my diary and how I
felt about them at the time, I found my observations and reactions to the
things I lived through far more fascinating now than the day I recorded
them. This is my accurate account of my observations, what I lived
through, and how I felt about it. I
include many rarely seen and previously unpublished photographs. Perhaps
more importantly, however, for the first time, through a mixture of diary
extracts and narrative, I share my personal insights, fears, reactions and
emotions about the unfolding events of the last private pioneering
expedition to explore the vast Antarctic wilderness.
For me, the trip was an extremely
difficult experience. As the wife of the leader who had put his very
being into the planning and execution of the expedition, my only and
complete interest was the success of the venture. His worries were my
worries. He was not new to the inevitable expedition controversies. I
was. I was under enormous tension the entire time. It took its toll. I
lost weight and returned to civilization at the lowest weight of my adult
life. When I viewed the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor upon our
return, I knew the gratitude and relief of the most downtrodden refugee
ever to have immigrated to the United States. I had not wanted to go in
the first place. Had I known what it would be like, I would not have
gone, or certainly would have made different decisions before I did go.
Upon return, I said immediately, I would never go again, that I knew the
grass was not greener on the other side of the fence.
On the other hand, I realize that
participating in the expedition made my life. It opened up vistas and
opportunities that I never would have had otherwise. It’s been my career
too. I have written and lectured about it extensively and I have returned
to the Antarctic continent several times. Old time explorers were all
captivated by the beauty, the isolation, and nature in the raw.
Invariably, they all wanted to return in time. So it had been with Finn
and so it was with me. The first time I returned was in 1959 and in 1971,
Finn and I were the first husband and wife team to set foot at the South
Pole. Also I returned to lecture on cruise ships in early 1995 and again
in 1996. And so in retrospect, since I have finally recorded the story of
my historic year’s stay there, I have no regrets and am relieved at having
completed the saga.
Edith M. “Jackie” Ronne