Jane Goodall: The Famous Anthropologist/Primatologist’s Journey

By Karen Harris
British primatologist Jane Goodall visits a chimpanzee rescue center in Entebbe, Uganda. (SUMY SADURNI/AFP via Getty Images)

Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall turned her love of animals into a career that changes the way humanity looks at primates and made her a household name. The tiny woman with a big sense of adventure came from a proper British family but gave up the creature comforts of home to spend decades in the jungles of Africa.

Becoming Jane

When Jane Goodall was born in London on April 3, 1934, she was named Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall, but she always went by Jane. Her parents, businessman Mortimer Herbert Morris-Goodall and novelist Margaret Myfanwe Joseph, gave their daughter everything she could have wanted, including a fondness for chimpanzees. In lieu of a teddy bear, Mr. Morris-Goodall decided to give the young Jane a toy chimpanzee, which she treasured and named Jubilee. As an adult, she credited Jubilee with initially inspiring her to study animals. She still keeps Jubilee on her dresser at home.

When she was just 23 years old, Goodall jumped at the chance to visit a farm in the Kenyan highlands that was owned by a family friend. In Africa, Goodall took a job as a secretary, but a friend who recognized Goodall's intense interest in African animals urged her to reach out to Louis Leakey, a celebrated archaeologist and paleontologist famous for unearthing skeletal remains of early hominids on the continent. Goodall only hoped for a nice chat with Leakey, so she was surprised when he offered her a job as his secretary, with plans for her to eventually research chimpanzees.

At the time, Goodall didn't even have a college degree. What she did have—and what Leakey recognized—was an obvious passion for and natural connection with primates that can't be taught. Leakey sent her back to England to learn her trade from a pair of noted primate experts, and two years later, she returned to Africa to observe chimpanzees in the wild at Gombe Stream National Park in what is now Tanzania. Leaky and his wife eventually paid for her bachelor's degree, which she earned in 1962 before presenting her doctoral thesis, based on her observations at Gombe Stream, in 1965.