Jane Goodall Biography Essays

Many may not consider a person who sits alone in a jungle for years interacting with monkeys a scientist, or even sane for that matter. However, Jane Goodall was both. Her years studying the chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Research Center on the shores of Lake Tanganyika of Tanzania, Africa influenced theories on evolution, animal behavior, habitat preservation, and even animal rights. She has published numerous books, won many awards, and had a lasting, positive effect on the lives of people everywhere.

Jane Goodall was born on April 3, 1934 in London, England to Mortimer Herbert Goodall and Vanne Morris Goodall (Notable Women Scientists 213). She and her sister, Judy, grew up in Bournemouth, a town on the southern coast of England (The Goodall Institute). As a child, her favorite toy was a stuffed monkey that her father named Jubilee after a chimpanzee born in the London Zoo at that time (The Goodall Institute).

Many of her parents' friends thought the young girl would be scared by the stuffed animal, but instead she loved it. In fact, she still has Jubilee in her home more than 60 years later (The Goodall Institute).

As a child, Jane had a boundless interest in animals. Once, while visiting a farm, she hid in a henhouse for five hours waiting for a hen to lay an egg (Women in Science 81). Even in her youth, Jane exhibited great patience, as well as a thirst for knowledge. Instead of changing their daughter's interests into something more common of young girls at that time, her parents nurtured her inquisitiveness. Her mother told her, "Jane, if you really want something, and if you work hard, take advantage of the opportunities and never give up, you will somehow find a way," (The Goodall Institute). Vanne Goodall's never-ending support...

Jane Goodall is a noted humanitarian, environmentalist, and has spent many years observing the behaviour of Chimpanzees in their native habitat.

Chimpanzees have given me so much. The long hours spent with them in the forest have enriched my life beyond measure. What I have learned from them has shaped my understanding of human behaviour, of our place in nature.”

– Jane Goodall

Short Biography Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall was born on, 3rd April 1934 in London, England. Her childhood ambition was to spend time with animals in the wild. In particular, she was drawn to the African continent and the dream of seeing wild animals in their native habitat. It was an unusual ambition for a girl at the time, but it was an ambition supported by her parents, especially her mother. After the war, Jane left school and found work as a secretary at Oxford University. In 1956, Jane jumped at the opportunity to travel to a friend’s farm in Kenya.

“Just remember — if you are really and truly determined to work with animals, somehow, either now or later, you will find a way to do it. But you have to want it desperately, work hard, take advantage of an opportunity — and never give up.”

My Life with the Chimpanzees (1996), p. 113

It was here in Kenya that Jane met the famous anthropologist and palaeontologist, Dr Louis S.B. Leakey. Leakey was impressed with Jane’s enthusiasm and knowledge of Africa and wildlife. As a result, he decided to take Jane to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania on a fossil-hunting expedition.

In 1960, Leakey and Jane began an important study of wild chimpanzees by Lake Tanganyika in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve.

With great patience and perseverance, the chimpanzee’s slowly revealed some fascinating habits to the group. These included meat eating – (Chimpanzees had assumed to be vegetarian). Also, Jane saw Chimpanzees making a ‘tool’ out of tree bark to use when extracting termites. This was an important discovery because, at the time, it was assumed only humans made tools. As Jane’s companion, Louis Leakey said at the time:

“Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”

The study of chimpanzees in their native habit was a groundbreaking event, leading to many new observations. It let to Jane’s first article published in National Geographic 1963 “My Life Among Wild Chimpanzees.” Some aspects of the study were criticised, for example, Jane’s decision to give the Chimpanzees names rather than numbers. Also, some feared her decision to feed the animals may have distorted their behaviour and made them more aggressive. But, other studies had similar effects. After her study, she was invited to participate in a PhD program at Cambridge University – an unusual occurrence for someone without a degree. She earned a doctorate in ethology from Darwin College, the University of Cambridge, in 1964.

In 1977, Jane set up the Jane Goodall Institute which promotes initiatives to look after Chimpanzees and their environment. The institute has many local networks and programs such as Roots and Shoots which have over 10,000 groups in 100 countries.

“The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. “

– Jane Goodall

In the past few decades, Jane has been increasingly concerned about the damage to the environment, which is especially a problem in Congo and West Africa. Since then she has devoted her time to campaigning and acting as an advocate for environmental charities and concerns. She has an exhaustive travelling schedule and speaks on average 300 times a day, encouraging people to do what they can to create a better world.

For her humanitarian work and environmental charities she has received numerous awards including being made a Dame of the British Empire, on February 20th, 2004; and in 2002, she was made a United Nations Messenger of Peace by UN secretary general, Kofi Annan.

She married twice and had a son Hugo Eric Louis ‘grub’ with her first husband Baron Hugo van Lawick. Her second husband was Derek Bryceson, who died of cancer in 1980.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Jane Goodall”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net, 28th Dec 2010.

My Life with the Chimpanzees


Humanitarians – Famous people who have offered charitable service to others, including Mother Teresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale and Princess Diana.

People who made a difference. Men and women who made a positive contribution to the world – in the fields of politics, literature, music, activism and spirituality.

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