Jeannette Piccard, balloonist, Episcopal priest, 1895-1981
A recent episode of 60 Minutes chronicled the story of the Solar Impulse, the first solar powered airplane that could also fly at night. The driving force behind the airplane is Bertrand Piccard, grandson of pioneering balloonist, Auguste Piccard. Auguste’s twin brother Jean and sister-in-law Jeanette also were balloonists. Jean was a professor at the University of Chicago when he needed a pilot for a stratospheric flight. His wife Jeannette volunteered for the job and in 1934 she guided the balloon 57,579 feet above Lake Erie while Jean studied cosmic rays and other space mysteries. Jeannette held the altitude record for women until 1963 when Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova undertook an orbital space flight. Jeannette was considered a pioneer for women in the aerospace field and later served as a consultant to NASA.
The Piccards moved to Minneapolis in 1937 when Jean became a professor at the University of Minnesota. Jeannette earned a Master’s in chemistry from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Minnesota but since the age of 11 she had wanted to be a priest. She graduated in 1918 from Bryn Mawr college with a degree in philosophy which she hoped would prepare her for the priesthood. Fifty-six years later in 1974, Jeannette, along with 10 other women, were ordained priests in the Episcopal church. The ordination ceremony was controversial and the women were first considered “outlaws” by some until the ordinations were upheld in 1977. Jeanette continued to live in Minneapolis after her husband died in 1963 until her own death in 1981. Until she became ill with cancer, Piccard served as the associate pastor at St. Phillip’s church in St. Paul.