Many of us have grown up knowing of Jane Goodall and her exhaustive studies of chimpanzee social and family life. In a time when women were finding their places in what had traditionally been non-traditional roles for them, Janetook us to a world farther beyond the office typewriter or beautician’s chair than we ever imagined.
As a child growing up in England, one of Jane’s most beloved toys was not a teddy bear but a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee that her father gave her. It started a love affair with animals that has never stopped. At only 23, she traveled to the highlands of Kenya to visit a friend. While there, she contacted the famous Dr. Louis Leakey with no more of an agenda than to discuss animals. Leakey had other ideas.
Goodall began work for Leakey as a secretary and, within a year, he sent her to study primates and, two years later, she visited Gombe Stream National Park for the first time, a place where she would reside and work for much of the next two decades.
With no scientific background or college degree, Goodall brought a unique approach to her work. Most notably, she named the chimps that she observed. This was unheard of before as scientists would number those they observed. She is credited with being the first ever to observe and record that chimps were able to construct and use tools, a skill previously thought only to be possessed by humans, as well as refuting the long held belief that chimpanzees were strict vegetarians.
Though her methods were unconventional, so were her results. Jane formed close bonds with the members of the community she observed and to this day is the only human to ever be accepted into chimpanzee society. She is the living embodiment of the idea that, if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.