001 – Jeanne Barret


Imagined portrait of Jeanne Barret dressed as a sailor, dating from 1817, after her death
Imagined portrait of Jeanne Barret dressed as a sailor, dating from 1817, after her death

Birth/Death: July 27, 1740 – August 5, 1807

Quick Summary: Jeanne Barret was Born in Autun, France to day laborers who could barley scrape by. As a result of this upbringing she quickly learned the trade of being an herb woman. First of all she develops a love for botany and care taking. A pivotal point in her life was when she met  Philibert Commerson. Here is where she found her collaborative partner who would share a love for science.  Rather than stay in her hometown, she joined and together they created an herbal tea business.

Some time later, Commerson was selected on to join a small naval voyage to circumnavigate the globe. At the time, French law didn’t allow women on such a voyage, and it seems like Commerson didn’t want to go on the voyage with out Jeanne. As a result Jeanne Barret quickly became Jean Bonnefoy and disguised herself as a man. It took many years and she faced some pretty dark times, but when she finally returned home, she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

Controversy: The discovery of Jeanne Barret being a female, continues to be based on speculation because of conflicting accounts and/or ship journals. Most noteworthy are the accounts of the naval leaders on the vessel of when and how Jeanne Barets was discovered. Many spellings of her name (ex. Jeane, Jeanne, Jean, Barre, Baret, Barret, Bonnefoy). No journals exist today that she wrote, all points of view are from males on the ship or science discovery where she was names as an assistant to the excursion.

PODCAST quotes:

She was an herb woman: one schooled in the largely oral tradition of the curative properties of plants. Herb women were for centuries the source of all raw materials to be prepared, mixed, and sold by male medical practitioners, and as botany crystallized as a science in the eighteenth century, a handful of male botanists did not think it beneath them to learn from these specialists. In this light, Baret was not Commerson’s pupil, but his teacher

Glynis ridley. The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe. Page 16

Baret, with tears in her eyes, admitted that she was a girl, that she had misled her master by appearing before him in men’s clothing at Rochefort at the time of boarding…that moreover when she came on board she knew that it was a question of circumnavigating the world and this voyage had excited her curiosity. She will be the only one of her sex to do this and I admire her determination…The Court will, I think, forgive her for these infractions to the ordinances. Her example will hardly be contagious. She is neither ugly nor pretty and is not yet 25.

Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Journal, 28-29 May 1768.

The men discovered they had a girl on board the Étoile, who disguised herself in men’s clothing to work as a servant to M. Commerson. Without casting any aspersions on the naturalist for having retained her for such an arduous voyage, I want to give her all the credit for her bravery, a far cry from the gentle pastimes afforded her sex. She dared confront the stress, the dangers, and everything that happened that one could realistically expect on such a voyage. Her adventure should, I think, be included in a history of famous women.

Prince de Nassau-Siegen,  Journal No 28 Manuscript A

a woman dressed as a man, a female botanist in a male-dominated field, and a working class woman who had traveled farther than most aristocrats. Given the importance of her work and the singular nature of her achievements, Baret has clearly made a sufficient contribution to the field to deserve a species named after her. Following Commerson’s example, we believe that this new species of Solanum, with its highly variable leaves, is a fitting tribute to Baret. 

Monnier J, Jolinon JC, Lavondes A, Elouard P (1993) Philibert Commerson: Le Découvreur de Bougainvillier. Association Saint-Guignefort, Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne, 105–113. 

Podcast Sources:

Foulkes, Debbie. “Jeanne Baret (1740 – 1807) First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe,. February 7, 2011. https://forgottennewsmakers.com/2011/02/07/jeanne-baret-1740-%E2%80%93-1807-first-woman-to-circumnavigate-the-globe/

knapp, Sandra. “History: The plantswoman who dressed as a boy” Febuary 2, 2011. https://www.nature.com/articles/470036a

Krulwich, Robert. “The First Woman To Go ‘Round The World Did It As A Man.” NPR. January 24, 2012. http://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2012/01/23/145664873/the-first-woman-to-go-round-the-world-did-it-as-a-man.

Lamb, Christian. From the Ends of the Earth: Passionate Plant Collectors Remembered in a Cornish Garden. London: Bene Factum Publishing Ltd., 2004.

Ridley, Glynis. The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2010.

Wood, Laurie.”The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe, by Glynis Ridley” Not Even Past.July 18, 2012 https://notevenpast.org/discovery-jeanne-baret-story-science-high-seas-and-first-woman-circumnavigate-globe-2010/

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