Exploration and Settlement

Ferdinand Magellan

Who was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe?

It was a young French woman named Jeanne Baret. In 1766 Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), a French naval officer, undertook an around-the-world expedition, which was successful and returned to France in 1769. But the crew made an interesting discovery en route: When the French arrived in Tahiti, the Tahitians immediately noticed something the crew had not—that one of the servants on the expedition was a woman. “Jean” Baret had been hired in France by one of the ship’s officers, Commercon, who also served as botanist for the expedition. Commercon did not know Baret was a woman. Her secret discovered by the Tahitians, she confessed, revealing that she was an orphan who had first disguised herself as a boy to get employment as a valet. When she learned about Bougainville’s expedition, she decided to continue the disguise in order to carry out an adventure that would have been impossible for a woman in that day. She was the first woman known to have circled the globe.


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