An Interview with Professor Donald Elder: Jane Goodall

Jan 19, 2019 by

Jane Goodall

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1. Unquestionably, one of the most well-known women of the last 100 years is Jane Goodall. Where was she born and educated?

Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall was born in Hampstead, England on April 3, 1934. Her father, in spite of the world-wide depression that had started in the late 1920s, had established himself as a successful business person, and her mother had written a number of well-received novels. Because of their affluence, Jane’s parents had the financial wherewithal to send her to the Uplands private school in St. Leonards-on-Sea.

During the Second World War, the institution’s authorities relocated the school because of their fears that the Germans might invade the British Isles near St. Leonards-by-Sea. As a consequence, Goodall and her classmates moved to Monmouthshire for the duration of the war, and then returned to the original facility in 1946. Goodall earned a school certificate in 1950, and two years later Uplands awarded her a higher certificate. During her childhood years, Goodall had demonstrated a keen interest in wildlife.

Indeed, she made drawings of the creatures that she observed, and took notes on their behavior. This presaged the activities that would one day make her famous. Furthermore, her early life also helped put her on the course of her life’s work. Unlike most children at the time, Jane had received a toy chimpanzee from her father. She later credited this gift with creating in her a love of that type of mammal.

2. How did she first get involved in her research?

As previously noted, Goodall had a fascination with wildlife, and even as a child she hoped to one day go to Africa to see exotic creatures in their natural habitat. In 1957, she got her wish when she arranged a trip to visit a friend in Kenya (at the time, a British colony). Immediately, she fell in love with the continent, and she decided to remain there. Soon, she acted on a whim and called Louis Leakey. By then, Leakey had established himself as one of the world’s foremost paleontologists. Goodall asked if she could meet him, and he agreed. At their first meeting, Goodall impressed him with her enthusiasm about animals found in Africa, especially chimpanzees. Although he didn’t tell her at the time, Leakey decided that he would find a way to help her study those primates in their natural environment.

Accordingly, he arranged for two primatologists in England to give her private instruction, and then got her funding to go to the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania in 1960 to study chimpanzees. Two years later, he helped her become a graduate student at Cambridge University’s women’s college. In 1965, she received her doctorate, having written her dissertation on her observations of the chimpanzees at Gombe Stream.

3. What do you see as her biggest contributions?

Goodall totally revolutionized the way that humans viewed chimpanzees. First, she proved that chimpanzees ate meat, contrary to the long-held belief that they ate only a vegetarian diet. Second, she found that chimpanzees could modify objects to help them adapt to their surroundings. Prior to that, scientists had believed that only humans could fashion tools. And lastly, Goodall proved conclusively that chimpanzees engaged in aggressive behavior towards each other. Here again, her assertion that humans and chimpanzees shared this trait completely changed the way that scientists viewed those primates. She became famous for her path-breaking work through American television.

On December 22, 1965, “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees” had its broadcast debut, and immediately brought her great renown. Her impact in the United States was so great that the University of Minnesota became the repository for her archives (in 2013, Duke University took on this responsibility). Since then, Goodall has continued her work on chimpanzees, and has encouraged others to follow in her footsteps.

4. What awards has she won?

Over the course of her lifetime, Goodall has received numerous awards from a wide range of organizations and countries. The accolades started for her in 1974, when the San Diego Zoological Society gave her its Gold Medal of Conservation. A decade later, she won the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Award. Her achievements did not escape attention in her native country, as in 1995 Queen Elizabeth II made her a Commander of the Order of the British Empire; in 2003, she became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2002, the United Nations made her a Messenger of Peace. She has received numerous doctorates, and (once again recognizing how favorably the United States has viewed her work) served as the Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade in 2012.

5. What will be her most lasting legacy?

In this series, we have examined the lives of women who have helped shape our nation. Some have an enduring fame, while others deserve more recognition than they currently enjoy. Jane Goodall clearly fits into the former category. Perhaps the most telling proof of this comes from American popular culture.

In 1980, Gary Larson created a cartoon that he titled “The Far Side.” A few years later, he created a cartoon that poked fun at how closely Goodall observed chimpanzees. The people who worked at her institute took umbrage with the innuendo contained in the cartoon, and contacted Larson’s lawyers. But when Goodall finally saw the cartoon, it amused her, and she instructed her people to stop the legal proceedings. In return, Larson produced a t-shirt bearing the image of the cartoon, and then donated the proceeds to her institute. She would later write the preface to two volumes of his collected works. When a person who studies primates becomes so famous that she appears in the most popular cartoon series of its time, she has achieved a status that will certainly stand the test of time.

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