Encyclopedia Womannica

Explorers & Contenders: Jane Goodall

Episode Summary

Dame Jane Goodall (1934-present) is one of the world’s most famous primatologists. She is best known for her decades-long research of wild chimpanzees.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s explorer is one of the world’s most famous primatologists. She is best known for her decades-long research of wild chimpanzees. Let’s talk about Jane Goodall. 

Jane Goodall was born Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall in 1934 in London. Her father Mortimer was a businessman and her mother Margaret was a novelist, who wrote under the pen name Vanne Morris-Goodall.

From a young age, Jane was fascinated with animals.  When she was four, Jane hid for hours in a henhouse just to observe how hens lay eggs. 

As an adolescent, Jane dreamt of a life in Africa, where she could study and work with animals. When she did finally move there as an adult, she said upon arrival that “it felt like coming home”. 

In 1957, Jane moved to Kenya. While there, she met Dr. Louis Leakey—a famed archeologist and paleontologist who offered Jane a job as his secretary. In 1960, Dr. Leakey sent Jane to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.  

In Gombe, without a college degree, Jane began her study of wild chimpanzees. At the time, little was known about chimpanzee behavior. Jane later wrote: “It was not permissible, at least not in ethological circles, to talk about an animal's mind. Only humans had minds.” 

Jane observed that chimps had unique personalities with a capacity to feel and display affection, support, joy and sorrow. 

In the fall of 1960, Jane witnessed a chimpanzee squatting on a termite mound, placing pieces of grass into the mound then raising the grass to his mouth. Jane discovered that the chimp had been using the grass stem as a tool to “fish” for termites. It had been previously accepted that humans were the only animals capable of making tools. 

When Jane sent her groundbreaking findings to Dr. Leakey, he wrote: “We must now redefine man, redefine tools, or accept chimpanzees as human!”

Over the course of her study at Gombe, Jane also found that chimps havealso had an aggressive side, systematically hunting and eating smaller primates. Jane even observed inter-group violence between two groups of chimps.

In 1963, National Geographic published an article about Jane. Through that piece,  she connected with photographer Hugo Van Lawick. Hugo and Jane married one year later, and eventually had a son named Hugo Eric Louis. 

Dr. Leakey urged Jane to attend the University of Cambridge, where she earned a PhD in ethology in 1965. She became the eighth person in the history of Cambridge to be permitted to pursue a PhD without an undergraduate degree. 

In 1974, Jane and Hugo divorced. A year later, she married Derek Bryceson, a member of Tanzania’s national assembly, who died in 1980. 

Jane used her famed discoveries to promote conservation to people all over the world—appearing on television, writing about her research, and even founding a global non-profit called The Jane Goodall Institute. 

In 2002, Jane was named a UN Messenger of Peace by Secretary General Kofi Annan. In 2004, Prince Charles deemed Jane a Dame of the British Empire. Today, Jane continues to champion human rights and conservation through the Jane Goodall Institute.

 Jane Goodall is credited with challenging long-held beliefs about chimpanzees. Her discoveries shifted the way humans see, observe, and think about primates. 

“If we keep our eyes open, our ears open, and think of everyday as an adventure, then each day will give us a lesson.”

All month, we’re talking about Explorers and Contenders. On Sundays, we’re taking a break from our normal episodes to highlight women we’ve previously covered who did amazing things in healthcare. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter, Womannica Weekly. 

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you on Sunday!