Who was the first female captain of Star Trek‘s legendary USS Enterprise? It’s the kind of question you might expect to be asked in a particularly nerdy trivia quiz, and for the answer you have to go back to one of the franchise’s greatest hours.
Found snugly in the middle of Star Trek The Next Generation’s third season, ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ is widely regarded as one of the major turning points in the franchise’s history, and is cited as the moment when the Star Trek series cemented itself as a worthy successor to TOS, after the unsteadiness of the first two seasons. It also features the Star Trek captain Rachel Garrett: the first female captain of the USS Enterprise, and a total badass.
“She had dedication. She had extraordinary courage. She had command of her life and the lives of other people, her crew. Her choices were very powerful and very hard,” said actor Tricia O’Neil reflecting on her Star Trek character, while speaking with StarTrek.com.
She concluded, “So I had the experience of being the captain of a starship. I wear it as a badge of honor that I played the first female captain of the Enterprise.”
That should be worn as a badge of honor indeed. While O’Neil’s Rachel Garrett wasn’t Star Trek’s first female captain seen on screen (that honor goes to Madge Sinclair, who played the captain of the USS Saratoga in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), or even the first seen in TNG (that’s Tryla Scott, from the season 1 episode ‘Conspiracy’) she’s the first who gets any real agency, and significance.
In fact, Rachel Garrett can be considered to be one of the most consequential captains of all time, and her decision to sacrifice herself and the crew of the USS Enterprise-C prevented a war between the Klingons and The Federation, saving billions of lives. Her brave leadership is at the heart of ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ and is a significant part of what makes the episode such a staggeringly brilliant watch.
Since Captain Garrett paved the way, the USS Enterprise has been helmed by further women: Admiral Shelby of the USS Enterprise-F, and now Captain Seven of Nine of the USS Enterprise-G. If Star Trek Legacy ever comes to fruition, we’ll get to see Seven’s adventures in the central chair, continuing on a legacy first created by Garrett, and Tricia O’Neil.
If you want to know more about the history of Star Trek, check out our guide to the Star Trek timeline, and see our thoughts on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order. Or, check out our list of the best TV series of all time.