Finn Ronne, the old Norwegian, had not promised everything under the sun, but only that he would never go to Antarctica again. The American Edith Maslin did not believe him one single word. And she became his wife in 1944. Because Edith, called Jackie, then 24 years old and employed as a secretary, loved this 20-year-older Finn Ronne above all else, his accent, his charm, his courage, his rank as a lieutenant. And that he had already been on an Antarctic expedition twice under Richard Byrd.
Finn Ronne’s father had been a member of Roald Amundsen’s successful South Pole expedition. Edith had correctly suspected that Finn, who had since been promoted to commander, was appointed the leader of the Antarctic expedition that went down in history as the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition, the last Antarctic expedition funded by private patrons. The company was to map the last unexplored coast of Antarctica, about 650 kilometers southwest of the Antarctic Peninsula, in 1947/48. The star of this expedition, however, was not Finn, but Edith. But not even Edith could have guessed that. It was intended that Edith would accompany her husband and captain as an assistant from the expedition start in Beaumont, Texas, to Valparaiso in Chile, the last port of call before Antarctica. From there she was to fly back to Texas. But in Valparaiso Finn, known as moody, asked his Edith if she would like to accompany him on the whole expedition. And because Harry Darlington, Finn’s chief pilot, who also had taken his wife Jennie to Valparaiso, Jennie should come along. Finn spoke of a 15-month stay in Antarctica. This time he promised his wife not only eternal love but also eternal ice and lots of penguins. Shortly afterwards, Edith accepted his offer. For she would have “accompanied him to the moon out of pure love,” as she later wrote in her memoirs. Jennie also accepted.
And so Edith Ronne and Jennie Darlington became the first two American women to set foot on Antarctica. Strictly speaking, Edith was the first. To be precise, she was only the second woman on the Antarctic mainland: in 1935, Carolina Mikkelsen, the wife of Norwegian whaler captain Klarius Mikkelsen, entered Antarctica as the very first woman, but only for a few hours. Edith Ronne and Jennie Darlington were the first women to 1. stay overnight in Antarctica and 2. to overwinter in Antarctica. If one of them had had a child in that time, it would have been… but that goes a bit too far. In any case, after Edith and Jennie, it took another ten years for another woman to come to Antarctica, that was the Russian Marie Klenova. Edith was an impious assistant to her husband Finn: she kept a precise diary and wrote many articles for the American press.
When the men were out for measurements, she took over the scientific seismographic and water level measurements in the camp. But life was hard and isolated. The friendship between the Ronnes and the Darlingtons solidified in frosty silence. Maybe because Jennie had carried down a silk negligee and Edith just a cocktail dress. After all, the crew got used to the presence of the women, because initially their enthusiasm about female accompaniment was very limited.
The stay in Antarctica lasted fifteen months. During this time, 650 kilometres of coastline were mapped, 14,000 photographs were taken from the air and an area of 400,000 square miles was explored. Finn named this area “Edith Ronne Land”. Edith would rename it 20 years later in “Ronne Ice Shelf”. In her memoir, Jennie Darlington wrote that women had no business in Antarctica. Edith Ronne, on the other hand, wrote that women in Antarctica always keep a residual attitude in the wild. Edith then returned to Antarctica 15 times. She died at the age of 89 on 14 June 2009. Her husband Finn had passed on already on January 12, 1980, just 81 years old. Jennie Darlington died in 2017.
Author: Greta Paulsdottir