The story of Jane Goodall is like a campfire tale. It gets better with each telling. Her story has been told many times in many ways. So, people recognize it right away. In 1965, Jane was a young, untested scientist. She wanted to learn about chimpanzees. She had no training in research. Yet, she managed to move through the mostly male worlds of science and media, making discoveries in her field. This is her story.

Growing Up

Valerie Jane Morris‑Goodall grew up in England. From an early age, she was fascinated by animals. She dreamed of living in Africa. She could not afford college. So, Goodall went to school to become a secretary. Her first job was as a waitress. She saved her money for an ocean passage to Kenya, in Africa.

Once there, she met with 
paleoanthropologist Louis S. B. Leakey.
His interest in great apes led him to research the origins of humans. Leakey hired Goodall as a secretary. Later, he arranged for her to research chimpanzees in another African country called Tanzania.

Roughing It

By the summer of 1960, Goodall was setting up camp in the Gombe Stream Reserve. Leakey had raised the money for her to carry out six months of fieldwork.

Goodall followed her instincts for her research. The scientific practice was to use numbers to identify animals being studied. Instead, Goodall recorded observations of the chimps by names she made up. There was Fifi, Flo, Flint, and even Mr. McGregor.

Goodall spent many hours looking for chimps through her binoculars. Once she spotted them, she’d try to move closer so they’d get used to her. But with one month left in her study, she hadn’t gotten close, and the chimps weren’t used to her. Nor had she made any important discoveries.

David Greybeard visits Goodall’s camp.

Flint takes a peek at Goodall from the top of her tent.

Turning Point

Then everything changed. Goodall made three discoveries. These would not only make Leakey proud but would also turn science on its head.

In her first discovery, she observed a chimp eating a dead animal. Until then, scientists thought that apes didn’t eat meat. She had named this chimp David Greybeard. Two weeks later, she observed the same chimp again. He poked a blade of grass into a termite tunnel. When he pulled it out, it was covered with termites, which he slurped down.

In another instance, Goodall saw David Greybeard pick a twig. Then he stripped it of its leaves and used it to fish for termites. He had exhibited tool use and toolmaking—two things that only humans were thought capable of. When news reached Leakey, he said:


Leakey’s telegram

Freud carefully inspects Goodall’s hair.