Jane Goodall, though now world renowned for her ground-breaking studies of chimpanzees and her tireless activism, was a far-from-likely scientific pioneer. Born in London, England to middle- class parents in the post-war years, Goodall’s passion for Africa and for animals began at an early age. Tarzan novels and Dr. Dolittle stories piqued her interest in Africa and animals, and in a time when women were expected to be housewives and mothers, Goodall knew her dreams would carry her to a life of adventure, travel, and study in Africa and around the world.
Her dreams of travel came true as she obtained a secretarial job and lived on a farm in Kenya. Having heard of the illumination work that archaeologists and paleontologists Mary and Louis Leaky were performing in the Olduvai Gorge, and with the encouragement of a dear friend, Goodall contacted Louis Leakey requesting a meeting.
Inspired by her boundless ambition, commitment, work ethic, and her interest in the study of chimpanzees, Leakey raised funds to send Goodall to Tanzania (known as Tanganyika at the time) for research. Leakey saw the benefit of primate study to his investigation of ancient human life, and even though Goodall had no formal training or scientific education, he invested in her efforts and sent her to Gombe Stream National Park.
During her first trip to Gombe Stream National Park, Goodall immersed herself in the dangerous African wild, risking endangerment from wildlife and disease, in pursuit of knowledge about the chimpanzees she so longed to study. Spending nearly every day for two years near the chimpanzees on the reserve, Goodall earned the trust of the chimps and garnered groundbreaking insight into the life of primates, humans, and the scientific and ethical relationships that exist between humans and wildlife.
After her endeavor in Gombe Stream National Park, Leakey insisted that she obtain her PhD. With no bachelor’s degree or previous study, Goodall earned her PhD from Cambridge University in 1965, becoming the 8thperson to receive the degree without a bachelor’s.
Since then, Goodall has spent much time in Africa and around the world, not only advancing the study of chimpanzees and other wildlife, but also serving as an activist for wildlife and natural environments. Goodall recognized the spiritual nature of the environment around her, the connectedness between all life, and has traveled the world over in her mission to educate and raise awareness.
A visionary in her field, a leader among activists, and an iron-willed woman of perseverance, Jane Goodall has lived an inspiring life of commitment to her personal goals and to the health and well being of all living things.
Hers was an investment in a life of uncompromising commitment.