2005 Fliers’ and Explorers’ Globe Signing Ceremony, 14 December 2005, New York City:Jennie Darlington (R) signs the globe and AGS Executive Director Mary Lynne Bird (L) looks on. Photo (R) is Edith Ronne and Jennie Darlington in the Antarctic, Winter 1947.
During the winter of 1947-48, Jennie Darlington and Edith (Jackie) Ronne were the first women to winter over in Antarctica. In tribute to their accomplishment, both were to be reunited in 2004 to sign the AGS’ Fliers’ & Explorers’ Globe at the gala signing held in Atlanta that year. Jackie Ronne was able to attend, but Jennie Darlington was ill that day and unable to attend or sign.
Fortunately, on December 14, 2005 Jennie Darlington came to the AGS offices and became the latest of the more than seventy distinguished people to place their signatures on the globe. With a flourish she wrote her name on Antarctica, near those of Ronne and Richard E. Byrd. Representing the AGS Council, Dr. Doborah E. Popper joined the AGS staff and the Darlington family, son Harry (Skipper), daughter Cynthia, and son-in-law, Charles Beyer for the signing and then lunch at St. Maggie’s Cafe.
Jennie Darlington clearly has always been an articulate, witty woman of spirit, adventure, and humor. She never intended to go to Antarctica, but found herself there for her honeymoon. Her new husband, Harry Darlington, was to be the senior pilot on the Finne Ronne expedition to explore and map the Weddell Sea. While working at Save the Children in New York City, she had met Harry, then a navy pilot. Antarctica was Harry’s interest, not hers. At sixteen Harry had gone with Byrd in 1936, tending to the expedition’s dogs. He looked forward to a return trip. As the time for the expedition to depart approached, Jennie and Jackie accompanied their husbands to Valparaiso, Chile. As Jennie recounted, it seemed the expedition might not come off since they were short of money for fuel. Finne approached the New York Times, offering them coverage of the expedition and, to increase the human interest angle, he added the tantalizing fillip of a woman coming along, as the first woman to winter over in Antarctica, as part of the story. The woman was to be his wife, Jackie. The Times bit and sent the money that allowed the group to take off. An unexpected obstacle, however, was the crew’s resistance to having one woman in the party. They preferred two, assuming they would keep each other occupied. Jennie was enlisted.
Jennie’s memories of the experience are of the exhilaration of being someplace so special, of the long nights, of bundling up, of the provisional nature of the camp, and lack of privacy, with the married couples getting a walled-off alcove at one end of the bunks. She recalled the conflicts and disagreements over routes of exploration. She remembered the dangers and the bravery and generosity. She spoke of one expedition member falling through a crevasse and a member from a neighboring expedition risking his own life in undertaking a successful rescue. And she recalled the fear that they might not get out as scheduled when the bay froze them in unexpectedly. An icebreaker was a welcome rescuer.
Jenny’s husband Harry gave his name to a spit along the Weddell Bay. One of the pleasures of the globe signing event was that of watching the family pore over the AGS Antarctica map to locate the exact spot named for Harry Darlington. As Jennie’s daughter peered at the map, she knew she had been there too—in utero, in her case. Jennie’s was the first Antarctic pregnancy. She has never returned to Antarctica, but the family’s interest in exploring and protecting the earth goes on. With the same spirit that took the Darlingtons to Antarctica, the next generation has pushed forward exploration with lighter-than-air technology, particularly applications for environmental monitoring. And many women have since followed in Jackie’s footsteps to Antarctica.