Also known as: Jane van Lawick-Goodall, VanLawick-Goodall
Birth: April 3, 1934 in London, England
Occupation: Research scientist, Naturalist, Writer
Source: Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Book I. Edited by Ray B. Brown. Gale Research, 1990.
"Because of our work with the chimps, we understand more about humans than we did before. We know we are not as different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we once thought we were."
Born April 3, 1934, in London, England, Jane Goodall is one of the premiere animal behavior scientists and naturalists working in Africa, and has done more to detail the life and perilous existence of the chimpanzee than any other person.
When Jane was five her family moved to France, but they were forced to return to England only a few months later when Hitler's armies began World War II. Jane's father soon enlisted to fight in the war, and Jane and her mother and sister settled in Bournemouth, a large city in the county of Dorset on the English Channel. Jane attended school in Bournemouth, but did not care much for the confinement it required. She much preferred being in the garden or the woods, watching birds or climbing trees.
A turning point in Jane's childhood came one day when her mother brought her a book from the library: Hugh Lofting's The Story of Doctor Dolittle, a fantasy about a doctor who learns to talk to animals and travels to Africa to help them. Seven-year-old Jane decided then that she must go to Africa someday. She began reading all the books about animals and Africa she could find. She and a friend made up stories about animals that lived in the garden, and Jane opened a small "conservatory" in her mother's house which included flowers, shells, and even a human skeleton. She also began the "Alligator Club" magazine, which she said "was filled with nature notes, drawings of insect anatomy, and other such things."
After she graduated from high school, Jane entered secretarial school in London, because her mother "said secretaries could get jobs anywhere in the world." After she graduated, Jane went to work for a physiotherapist in Bournemouth, and later for a documentary film company in London, a job she loved. She still longed to go to Africa, but lacked both the funds and an excuse. Her chance came when an old school friend invited Jane to come visit the friend's family in Nairobi, Kenya. Jane made enough money to go, and sailed by ship all the way from London, around the Cape of Good Hope, to Mombasa, Kenya. She then took a train to Nairobi.
In Kenya, Jane used her secretarial skills to land a job with a large corporation, but she soon found a much better situation. A friend told her about a man named Louis Leakey, a paleontologist and anthropologist who was searching for evidence of early man in Kenya. Jane arranged an interview with Leakey. Impressed by her knowledge of animals, and desperately in need of a secretary, he hired Jane. She soon began accompanying Leakey and his wife Mary to sites such as Olduvai Gorge in Tanganyika. A few years later, the Leakeys would find there the remains of Homo Habilis, the earliest ancestor of man known to make and use tools.
After working with the Leakeys for some time, Jane was able to save enough money to bring her mother to Africa for a visit. She said, "All my life, up to that time, [my mother] had been doing things for me. Now, at last, I could do something for her." Mrs. Goodall loved Africa, as it turned out, and the two spent several happy months together. Meanwhile, Jane contemplated her future. Louis Leakey had suggested that she study a group of chimpanzees living near a lake in Tanganyika, believing that such a study would shed light on the behavior of man's ancestors. But studying the chimps would require money, and that would mean securing funding from somewhere. Although Jane had a good working knowledge of many species of animals, she had no formal scientific training and no university degree, so it would be difficult for her to receive any funding. Louis Leakey offered to try to raise the money, and Jane returned to England.
Back in England, Goodall took a job at the London Zoo, and read everything she could find about chimpanzees. Less than two years later, she received a letter from Louis Leakey saying that he had been able to arrange funding for a chimpanzee project in Tanganyika. The money and governmental permission had been difficult to obtain, Leakey wrote, and Jane would not be permitted to go into the back country alone. Jane later explained, "In those days it was not thought at all safe for a young, single girl to go into the wilds of Africa and study animals." She selected her mother as her traveling companion, and the two were once again off to Africa.
The chimpanzee population to be studied was located in the Gombe Stream Game Reserve in Tanganyika. Because of some fighting among tribesmen in the bush country, the Goodalls were delayed for some time in Tanganyika before they could go to Gombe. Finally, in July of 1960, Jane arrived at Gombe for the first time. She got up at 5:30 each morning to observe the chimps. She soon discovered many characteristics of their behavior and social system, such as the fact that they lived in groups of six or less but were all part of a larger community. She began to recognize individual chimps, and gave them names, such as David Greybeard, the first chimp she observed regularly. Friends of David Greybeard she named Goliath, William, and Flo. Jane recognized that once one observes chimps for a while, they are as easy to identify as humans.
Jane's work was funded in part by the National Geographic Society, with Louis Leakey dispersing the funds. In the early 1960s, the Society sent a young photographer to Gombe to film the chimps: Hugo van Lawick, a Dutch baron who traced his ancestry back to the 13th century. In 1964, Jane and Hugo were married. Hugo remained in the bush with Jane and shot many hours of wonderful films for the National Geographic Society.
Within a few years, Jane was forced to leave Gombe to return to England and earn a Ph.D. The degree was something she had promised Leakey she would earn, and future funding likely depended on it. Although she had no college degree, Jane was accepted at Cambridge University after Louis Leakey again intervened on her behalf. At Cambridge, she studied animal behavior, usually termed "ethology," and in 1966 she received her Ph.D. and returned to Tanganyika.
In 1967, Jane experienced "the most important event of my life. I had a baby...." She named her son Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick, after her husband, one of her uncles, and Louis Leakey. Although his parents nicknamed him "Grub," the infant did not seem to mind, and his indomitable spirit allowed Jane and Hugo to continue their work at Gombe.
Although Jane spent all of her time at Gombe, husband Hugo still worked for the National Geographic Society. He was assigned to various stories throughout the world, and was away from Gombe much of the time. Finally, they were divorced in the mid-1970s. Jane later said, "It was sad, especially for Grub. If I could live that part of my life over again, I would try very hard to work things out differently."
Jane soon remarried, to an Englishman named Derek Bryceson, who was the director of Tanzania National Park. Bryceson lived in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania (the name of Tanganyika had been changed when the country merged with the island of Zanzibar). He had been a fighter pilot in World War II, had been shot down, and was almost completely paralyzed from the waist down. Jane began spending some of the year in Dar es Salaam writing, and the remainder at Gombe. Sadly, Bryceson died of cancer only a few short years after he and Jane were married.
Many of the chimps Jane had first seen at Gombe had died, but some remained alive. Chimps often live to be 50 years old, and Jane had known many of the individuals at Gombe for so many years that when one occasionally died it was like losing a member of her own family. She continued her work at Gombe, continued writing in Dar es Salaam, and spent about four months a year raising money for further research at Gombe.
By this time, Jane was using other avenues to inform the world of her research on chimps and of the dangers of the unrestricted advance of civilization. In addition to National Geographic magazine and television specials, she began authoring books, such as My Friends, The Wild Chimpanzees and In the Shadow of Man. In 1977, she established the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation to provide funding for continued chimpanzee research at Gombe and to lend support to further research on apes and other animals around the world. She took visiting professorships at universities, including Stanford University in California and the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. In the mid-1980s, she began a new project called ChimpanZoo. The project called for students and volunteers to study chimpanzee behavior at zoos. By 1988, 14 zoos in North America were taking part in the project, and several zoos in Europe were about to begin.
Jane Goodall continues to live by herself in Tanzania, at Gombe and at Dar es Salaam. Although as of 2000 she has spent 40 years studying the chimpanzees at Gombe, she feels that her work is far from over. In 1986, she wrote a book about her many years in Tanzania entitled The Chimpanzees of Gombe, and in 2000, she published Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. She has won many of the most prestigious wildlife and conservation awards around the world, including the Kyoto Prize in Basic Science (1990), the National Geographic Society Hubbard Medal (1995), Woman of the Year (1996), and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1997). Her goals have always been to understand and preserve the chimpanzees, and her work has been invaluable in bringing the need for conservation to the minds of millions of people. Goodall is recognized around the world as one of the foremost animal behaviorists of our time.
February 20, 2004: Goodall was invested as a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) by Prince Charles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. She was honored "for services to the environment and conservation." Source: The Jane Goodall Institute, April 19, 2004.
April 30, 2004: Goodall received the 2004 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. When he awarded the prize, Charles Kennel, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography stated, "Jane Goodall has devoted her life to studying and caring for chimpanzees and to raising our awareness of the connectedness of all living things. Her awe-inspiring half century of work as a scientist and her vision of the future as a U.N. Messenger of Peace, make her an ideal recipient of the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest." Source: EurekAlert!, August 24, 2004.
November 1, 2008: Goodall was honored with the Leakey Prize in human evolutionary science from the Leakey Foundation. It was presented at a ceremony in San Francisco, California. Source: Los Angeles Times,, November 1, 2008.
Golden Medal of Conservation; Order of the Golden Ark; Wildlife Conservation Prize; Kyoto Prize in Basic Science; Woman of the Year; John & Alice Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.
"Jane Goodall." Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Book I. Edited by Ray B. Brown. Gale Research, 1990.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.