Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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by Adrian G. Weiss

No other primatologist or ethologist has made the cover of National Geographic more than her. Not even Louis Leaky gets more recognition. Her name is synonymous with the names Flo, Freud, and David Greybeard. Jane Goodall is more than just the "chimpanzee lady". Her work gives new insight to our own humanness and humaneness. We now have the knowledge to explore our own behaviors and emotions in a new light.

We share many things with chimpanzees. Jane Goodall has shown us this through her research at the Gombe National Reserve in Tanzania. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees. They often use facial expressions that look uncannily human, although we will never know if they truly possess any emotions that correspond with the expression. Chimps often greet one another with a kiss, hug, or gentle hand touch. Babies stay with their mothers until they reach adulthood. Chimps are omnivorous. They can make and use tools. All of these behaviors were researched and observed by Dr. Jane Goodall for the last 38 years.


Jane was born in London, England on April 3, 1934. Her father, Mortimer, was an engineer. Her mother, Vanne, is an author. Jane grew up in a large house on the ocean near Bourenmouth, England. Two of Jane's aunts also shared the house with Jane's family (Uglow 1989).

Jane loved being outdoors. When she was a young girl, Jane spent as much time outside as she could. She would explore the various creatures that made their home in her big back yard. Jane loved the Tarzan stories. She thought she would make a better "Jane" for the handsome Tarzan. She read the Jungle Book and other stories that took place or were about Africa. She was fascinated by the mystique of the jungle. At the age of eleven, Jane decided that she wanted to go to Africa, maybe even live there.

Jane, as a child, had a very good relationship with her mother. Their good relationship continued, even as she fought her way to Africa, when no one else said she could do it. Jane remembers how understanding her mother was. Once, when Jane was 18 months old, Vanne found her with a bunch of earthworms in her bed. Vanne did not make a fuss about the mess; never mind there were slimy earthworms in her baby's bed. Jane's mother simply told her that she had to return the worms to the earth quickly, or they would die (Goodall 1996).

"My mother used to tell me, 'Jane, if you really want something, you work hard enough, you take advantage of opportunities, you never give up, you will find a way.'" (Davies 1997).

Jane married Dutch photographer, Hugo van Lawick, in 1964. They met while Hugo was at Gombe covering Jane for National Geographic. They shared a love for the jungle and its animals. They had one son, Hugo, better known as Grub (Goodall 1971).

Grub grew up in Tanzania as his mother did her research. She spent her mornings writing or observing, and her afternoons were devoted to him. Jane and Hugo wanted to raise their children in much the same manner as chimpanzees raise their babies. Jane admired the compassion and patience of Flo, an older chimp mother. Jane watched as Flo used distraction when her son Flint got a little mischievous. Jane breast fed on demand, when many British mothers were bottle feeding (Montgomery 1991).

Jane and Hugo later divorced, and Jane married Derek Bryceson, a politician and former head of the national parks in Tanzania. Sadly, Bryceson died in 1980 of cancer, after only five years of marriage (Nichols 1995).

Jane found respect for all living things through her mother, and her own love of nature. She did not go to college. She took secretarial courses, and she waited tables to help fund her first trip to Africa (Davies 1997). Soon her dreams of the African landscape would come true.


Jane, a young woman in her twenties, found herself in Africa. She took a secretarial job in Nairobi, Kenya to support herself. Jane didn't like the work much, but she was fulfilling a lifelong dream. It was only a year after her arrival before she heard that anthropologist Louis Leakey and his wife Mary were digging near her in Zaire. She made a trek to meet them. Leakey had been planning a research study of the great apes. He wanted to find more commonalties between them and humans. Leakey felt there was more to the great apes than we knew; our genetic link loomed large over us. What did it mean? He took Jane on as his secretary. She organized his research notes for the Natural Museum of History (Uglow, 1989). As his latest research project came into shape, Leakey thought Jane Goodall might be good for the project. It has been said that he wanted someone without a lot of training in field of ethology or primatology. He wanted an unbiased perspective on the subject. He chose Jane to start the project on Chimpanzees on the Gombe National Reserve in Tanzania. He funded the study, and told her in might take ten or more years to complete it. Jane thought possibly three.


Jane has been doing research at Gombe for 38 years now. Neither she nor Louis Leakey believed it would blossom into what it has become.

Jane was prepared to go the jungle on her own, to explore the lives of chimpanzees. The Tanzanian government in 1960 thought that it wasn't safe for a young English woman to venture deep into the jungle without a proper chaperone; so her mother, Vanne went along. They had a guide and supplies to help them from the nearest small village. Gombe sits along Lake Tanganyika, and borders Burundi and the Congo.

Jane was eager to establish a sense of trust among the chimps. She soon found a favorite observation point- The Peak, she calls it. The Peak overlooks most of the reserve. Looking North one can see Kasekela Valley. Jane made two very surprising discoveries during the first three months at Gombe. These observations changed what we know about chimpanzees, and our thoughts on primate (human) behaviors.

Jane was very discouraged and depressed after only a few weeks at Gombe. The chimps would not let her within 50 yards of them, and she had observed very little. Jane was getting discouraged about the project. She had never done research with animals, and the chimpanzees were certainly not cooperating with her. Vanne kept her spirits up by sharing stories of newly discovered friends. Jane and Vanne soon got sick. They had heard rumors of malaria in the area, but doctors had assured them that a vaccination would not be necessary. For weeks they lie in bed with fever and very little energy. Their guide David wanted them to go to the doctor, but they didn't want to make the long three hour trip by boat. Jane and Vanne finally gave in, and were given treatment for malaria. Jane would get malaria again a few months later.

One day, a large male chimp wandered into the camp. He eyed the tent from a nearby tree. Suddenly, he began stomping and screaming, as though he felt threatened. Jane soon realized the chimpanzee was eyeing a banana on the table just inside the tent. This would be Jane's chance to get close to the chimps. From that day on, bananas were kept near by for any curious chimps.

Jane eventually grew very close to the chimps at Gombe. They would soon allow her to follow them, as they led the way. They greet her as they do each other, with a touch or a kiss. Her sense of patience and trust won them over.

This event encouraged Jane to keep trying to form a sense of deeper trust with the chimps. Everyday, Jane was allowed closer. It was just three months into the study before Jane made her first big discovery. She was observing a male chimp, (David Greybeard, she later determined) up a tree with something pinkish in his hands. Two smaller, female chimps were nearby with their hands stretched out, as if begging. Jane used her binoculars for a better look. David Greybeard was eating the pink object. He dropped the object, and it fell to the ground. Some bushpigs came screeching out of the greenery, attacking David Greybeard. The pinkish object was a baby bush pig. David Greybeard was eating meat. This astounded Jane; chimpanzees had been thought of as herbivores, who occasionally ate small bugs. Chimpanzees had never before been seen or recorded as eating meat. Like humans, chimps are omnivores (Goodall 1971).

Jane wired Louis Leakey with this new discovery. He immediately sent more supplies and arranged for the project to be further funded. It was within weeks before Jane made another important discovery. David Greybeard was digging in a termite mound. He was using a thick grass blade as a tool, which is pretty amazing, but had not been documented before in nonhumans. What made the history books was what David did with the grass blade before he started digging. He had chosen a select sliver and peeled it to shape the blade to his liking. This was the first recorded occurrence of tool manufacturing in nonhumans (Nichols 1995, Goodall 1971).

Jane would soon see the intrusion of cameras and video equipment at Gombe. National Geographic began chronicling her study in 1964. They put her on the cover of their magazine, and did more T.V. specials on her than any other anthropologist. Leakey wanted Jane to get her Ph.D.. in ethology. He wanted her work to be accepted within the community. He didn't think Jane would be taken seriously. Jane hated the idea. She knew getting a graduate degree would take time, time away from Africa and her chimps.

"I didn't want a Ph.D..; I spent as little time there (Cambridge) as possible." (Montgomery 1991, pp. 101).

Jane received her Ph.D.. from Cambridge University in 1965. She is one of only eight other people to earn a Ph.D.. without a bachelor's (Montgomery 1991). Her adviser, Robert Hinde, said her methods were not professional, and that she was doing her research wrong. Jane's major mistake was naming her "subjects". The animals should be given numbers. Jane also used descriptive, narrative writing in her observations and calculations. She anthropomorphized her animals. Her colleagues and classmates thought she was "doing all wrong". Robert Hinde did approve her thesis, even though she returned with all of his corrections with the original names and anthropomorphizing. They are close friends today.

"It is not easy to study emotions even when the subjects are human. As we try to come to grips with the emotions of beings progressively more different from ourselves the task, obviously, becomes increasingly difficult. If we ascribe human emotions to nonhuman animals we are accused of being anthropomorphic-a cardinal sin in ethology. But is it so terrible? If we test the effect of drugs on chimpanzees because they are biologically so similar to ourselves, if we accept that there are dramatic similarities in chimpanzee and human brain and nervous system, is it not logical to assume that there will be similarities also in at least the more basic feelings, emotions, moods of the two species?" (Jane Goodall 1990, p.16).


Jane has made the gap between chimpanzees and humans much smaller. Over the years, her observations have been heralded as landmark discoveries in primatology and ethology. The following is a timeline of observations made by Jane, as reported in her book In the Shadow of Man (1971), and in National Geographic magazine (1964, 1995).


Jane has been the Director of research at Gombe since 1967. She continues to promote conservation. Jane created the Chimpanzee Guardian Project. Jane has set up several halfway homes for injured or orphaned chimps found in the wild. She advocates the ethical treatment of Chimpanzees in research and zoos. She teaches the humane way to study chimps in a lab setting. Jane created the Roots and Shoots program for school children to learn about wild animals and conservation of the environment. The number of chimpanzees in the wild has dropped since Jane first began her study at Gombe. It was once thought that over one million chimps lived in parts of Africa, now only about 250,000 have been recorded. Jane also founded the Jane Goodall Institute. You can write them at Box 599, Ridgefield, CT 06877.

Jane continues to write and lecture. Her staff at Gombe has grown to several graduate students. She bides her time between her childhood home in Bourenmouth, England, and a home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Her awards include the Albert Schweitzer Award 1987, the Encyclopedia Britannica Award 1989, and the Kyoto Prize for Science 1990.


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