Today’s Doodle celebrates French botanist and explorer Jeanne Baret on her 280th birthday. In 1766, Baret departed France aboard the ship Étoile (Star) as part of an exploratory expedition and upon her return made history as the first woman to circle the globe.
Jeanne Baret was born on this day in 1740 in the historic town of Autun in central France. Thanks to a rural upbringing, she became adept at identifying plants and earned recognition as a local specialist in plant medicine. In the early 1760s, she began working for the noted botanist Philibert Commerson.
When France organized its first circumnavigation of the globe in 1765, Commerson was invited along as the group’s botanist. French laws barred women from navy ships, so in order to serve as his assistant, Baret dressed to appear as a man. The pair collected over 6,000 plant specimens during the voyage.
Today, many credit Baret alone for the European discovery of the now-famous bougainvillea vine while the crew was stopped in Brazil. Depicted in the Doodle artwork is a bougainvillea vine in bloom, wrapping around an inquisitive Baret aboard the Étoile.
Eventually, crewmembers discovered Baret had been dressing as a man in Tahiti, and she and Commerson ended their journey early on the island of Mauritius in 1768. Baret remained there for years before she finally returned to France, which marked the official completion of her circumnavigation.
In 2012, Baret was finally given a botanical honour that eluded her during her lifetime, when a newly discovered plant from the Solanum genus–which includes potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants–was given the species name baretiae.
Thank you, Jeanne Baret, for opening the door for generations of explorers.
Jeanne Baret didn’t set out to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. When she stepped on board the Etoile in 1766, she was looking for plants.
Her lover, Philibert Commerson, was a well-known botanist at the time and had been selected to be part of French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s round-the-world expedition from 1766-69.
Glynis Ridley, author of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe, says Baret would have been the obvious choice to serve as Commerson’s assistant on the Etoile’s journey, except for one thing.
“A French Royal ordinance forbade women being on French Navy ships,” Ridley tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. A little theater was necessary.
“The couple formulated a plan for Baret to disguise herself as a young man [and] offer herself as his assistant on the dockside.”