The Ronne Family




"Antarctica's First Lady"

newly released autobiography by

Edith M. "Jackie" Ronne

Member, Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (1946 - 1948)


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.

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Book Summary

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 compelling tale.


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 future awaited.

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. 

But the 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 destination: ANTARCTICA.

Antarcticas First Lady


 Edith M. “Jackie” Ronne

Book Summary

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 Ice Shelf.

For nearly fifty years, people have asked me why I haven’t written a book about my Antarctic experiences. I have lectured widely and written articles but have never revealed how I personally felt. It was, in many respects, too painful. As the expedition leader's writer, confidant, and wife, I was in a unique position to understand his plans, motivations, and frustrations. My husband had put his very being into the expedition and my only interest was the venture's success. His worries were my worries. He was not new to the inevitable expedition controversies; I was and it created enormous tension for me the entire time. When I viewed the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor upon our return, I knew the gratitude and relief of the most desperate refugee ever to enter the United States. I kept a very complete diary that year but as I had neither the desire nor courage to relive the experience, it took me forty-seven years to read it again. This book is the result. 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




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. 

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

Bethesda, Maryland

January 1996


Antarctica's First Lady Comes to Texas
On November 11, 2004, Edith “Jackie” Ronne attended Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council’s Power of a Promise Breakfast. A former Girl Scout and Sea Scout, Jackie was the first American woman to set foot and winter on the Antarctic continent. She accompanied her husband, polar explorer Finn Ronne on his fifteen-month Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition. The expedition left the Port of Beaumont on January 25, 1947. It was the last private volunteer expedition from the United States of America. As Expedition Recorder-Historian, she wrote news releases for the North American Newspaper Alliance, and kept a daily history of the expedition’s accomplishments. She has served as president of the Society of Women Geographers and is the recipient of a special Congressional Medal for American Antarctic Exploration. She has recently published a book, Antarctica’s First Lady, about her experiences that includes excerpts from her personal diary describing daily life and the challenges the explorers faced.
Jackie's book describes her experiences as an Arctic explorer.

After the breakfast, Cora Ann Blytas presented Jackie with a proclamation from Houston Mayor Bill White, marking November 11 as Edith “Jackie” Ronne Day. Jackie took time to sign copies of her book for fans. Later in the afternoon she traveled to the Clifton Steamboat Museum Complex in Beaumont to celebrate the opening of the Ronne Museum Exhibit.Edith “Jackie” Ronne exemplifies the ideals of the Girl Scouts founder, Juliette Gordon Low. Her pioneering spirit, intellectual curiosity and sense of adventure represents the best of what Girl Scouting is about. It was a truly memorable day.





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