Balloonomania Belles: Daredevil Divas Who First Took to the Sky

Written by Sharon Wright
Review by Edward James

You can’t keep a good woman down!  This was certainly true of the early balloonists.  The world’s first manned flight took place in Paris on 21 November 1783; the first women to fly (four of them) took off from the same city six months later.  This was a private ‘experiment’.  The first public ascent by a female took place in Lyon the following month.

Ballooning was very much an equal opportunities activity.  The only qualifications were raw courage and maybe half an hour’s parachute training.  Since ballooning remained largely a public entertainment until the early 20th century, the first female balloonists were mostly actresses, but later on waitresses and runaway teenagers all took to the skies.  It was horribly dangerous, and many died young.

Balloonomania Belles tells the story of the leading female balloonists in France, Britain and America from the 1780s to the 1910s.  Eventually aeroplanes displaced balloons, leaving a new generation of women to pioneer a new form of flight.