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Captain Katherine Janeway of 'Star Trek Voyager'

Updated on January 6, 2015

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the original “Star Trek” series and godfather to all subsequent ones, was visionary and at first this was considered to be damnation for success. A black woman on the helm with a short skirt, at a time when no women were allowed on American naval ships, a Russian helmsman during the Cold War, and even a believable alien; these were all considered dangerous ground for the public medium. Character names were often taken from the names of producers and friends.

The Captain for the U.S.S. Voyager was originally named Elizabeth Janeway, after the author Elizabeth Ames Hall Janeway. By understanding a little about this brilliant and forward-thinking woman, we gain insight into the Janeway character on the Voyager. She was married to the equally intelligent Eliot Janeway, economic adviser to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. The two of them mingled with luminaries of the American government; Elizabeth even recommended Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying to justice William O. Douglas. Mrs. Janeway started out with the liberal views of the 1930s and eventually became known for her feminist works of the 1970s. She even learned Russian so that she could tour the Soviet Union.

By reading her work, one can get a view of a person who understood the complex relationships between people and the particular problems of women in society – and women’s unique ability to handle the relationships. Some examples of quotes from Elizabeth Janeway include:

  • “Like their personal lives, women's history is fragmented, interrupted; a shadow history of human beings whose existence has been shaped by the efforts and the demands of others.”

  • “It seems to me highly improbable that women are going to realize their human potential without alienating men - some men, anyway”

  • Growing up human is uniquely a matter of social relations rather than biology. What we learn from connections within the family takes the place of instincts that program the behavior of animals; which raises the question, how good are these connections?”

  • “In this nadir of poetic repute, when the only verse that most people read from one year's end to the next is what appears on greetings cards, it is well for us to stop and consider our poets. . . . Poets are the leaven in the lump of civilization.”

With a person like this as the namesake of the U.S.S. Voyager Captain, it is easy to see that a lot of talent and insight could be attributed to the Captain and her management of a crew of Star Fleet officers, Star Fleet rejects, brigands and aliens.

Nonetheless, the series had a start worthy of a “Star Trek: Voyager” episode. Among the many talented women who auditioned for the role, Genevieve Bujold was cast. She immediately requested the character be renamed ‘Nicole Janeway’ (no one seems to know why). But as a feature film actress, Ms. Bujold was not prepared for the 12-hour days and the news interviews. She dropped out the second day of filming, leaving the entire set in shock.

Kate Mulgrew was brought in, and she suggested that the name should be Kathryn Janeway, which better suited her very-Irish looks than the name Nicole. Ms. Mulgrew attributed her command style to her upbringing as the oldest and bossiest girl in an Irish Catholic family of eight children.

With Kate Mulgrew on board, the Janeway character demonstrated the strength, negotiation capability, determination, creativity and diplomacy of the original Elizabeth Janeway. Kathryn Janeway had to get the best out of a stranded crew which included giving a second chance to her errant pilot, teaching an automaton how to be human (and why that’s a good thing), and encourage a computer-generated medico to sing opera. She had to keep her crew’s eyes on the goal, which was to make it through 75 years of trying to get home. The character eventually rose to the rank of Admiral and appeared in later Star Trek films.

In the usual thorough thinking of Star Trek producers, this is the Starfleet Personnel File for Kathryn Janeway:

STARFLEET PERSONNEL FILE: Janeway, Kathryn
Rank: Admiral
Current assignment: Starfleet Command; previously, commanding officer of U.S.S. Voyager

Full Name: Kathryn Janeway
Home region: Indiana, North America, Earth
Birthday: May 20
Parents: Admiral Edward Janeway (d. 2358) and Gretchen Janeway
Siblings: One sister
Education: Starfleet Academy graduate
Marital status: Single (once engaged)
Office: (2371-2378) U.S.S. Voyager, Deck 1 Ready Room adjoining Bridge

© 2015 Bonnie-Jean Rohner

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