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If you like Jane Goodall's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Lee Berger,
Susan Butcher,
Sylvia Earle,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Stephen Jay Gould,
Edmund Hillary,
Donald Johanson,
Meave Leakey,
Richard Leakey,
Ernst Mayr,
Greg Mortenson,
Sally Ride,
Richard Schultes,
Tim White and
Edward O. Wilson

Jane Goodall can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Jane Goodall's recommended reading:
The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

Related Links:
Jane Goodall Institute
Roots and Shoots

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Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall
Profile of Jane Goodall Biography of Jane Goodall Interview with Jane Goodall Jane Goodall Photo Gallery

Jane Goodall Interview (page: 6 / 9)

The Great Conservationist

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  Jane Goodall

Did religion play a role in your childhood?

Jane Goodall Interview Photo
Jane Goodall: My grandmother was married to a clergyman. He was like a Congregational minister. I never met him. It's one of my real sadnesses. He died before I was born, of cancer. So my grandmother obviously had been to church with him. She used to go to church, not every Sunday. We didn't really talk about religion that much, but the idea of God was just part of our life and I never thought much about it.

I had a tree in the garden I called Beech. I made a will which I made my grandmother sign, leaving me this tree in perpetuity. It was a beech tree and I used to climb up this tree. And when I was up there, I felt very close to the birds and the sky and the clouds. I used to take my homework up there. I used to go up with a book if I was sad. And somehow, the wind and the birds and the tree and the leaves and God were all intermingled as I was growing up. It was all kind of one, and I didn't really question it.

Then when I was 15 I fell passionately and platonically in love with a "God's man." He was a Welshman. He had this beautiful Welsh voice. So then I would go to church every Sunday, twice in a Sunday, three times if I could, in the middle of the week if I could. And I would sit in the back gallery. He was a funny little man, really. Trevor Davies. And then I could not get enough of church. That's when religion really meant something to me. It was quite an important part of my life, I think, because of him, but beyond him.

You've mentioned the war a couple of times. What was the impact of World War II on your childhood?

Jane Goodall: World War II was such an important part of my childhood. It changed everything. My father went off. He joined the army. My mother's friends were being killed. We had to put blackout up in the windows every night. We weren't in a war zone, that was London. We were down on the coast, but very often the bombers would drop their bombs if they hadn't bombed anywhere before they flew across the Channel, because then if they were shot, it was safer for them. You know, because then they didn't explode so easily. So we had bombs drop near us. But I think what really, really, really made an impact was at the end of the war, when the pictures of the Holocaust came into the newspapers. These living skeletons, these rows of dead bodies. It was utterly shocking, and that was the first time. I remember climbing up Beech and trying to work out in my mind about this good, wise God that had just been a part of my childhood without my really thinking about it, and this utter evil, this complete cruelty, and how to reconcile these two elements.

Dr. Goodall, all through your adolescence, you were called Valerie Jane. That changed when you graduated from high school. Was that a sort of re-identification of yourself?

Jane Goodall: I was called Valerie Jane all through my young childhood. Then I became known as V.J. because it was quicker, so I was V.J. In my riding school I was V.J., and at school I was V.J. I think I was about 13 or 14, something like that, when my mother discovered something she hadn't known before. Valerie was the name of my father's first girlfriend. It was dropped like that. I became Jane. So I was either V.J. or Jane from that moment on.

Did you study field biology in high school? Was there a supportive community for your ambitions?

Jane Goodall: When I was at school I did biology. I wanted to do zoology, but it was a very small school. There was nobody qualified to teach zoology, so the three of us who...I mean, we were told that I was the only one wanting to study zoology. It turned out there were two other girls as well. But there was nobody qualified to teach us zoology, so we did biology. Field biology hadn't come, there was no such thing as field biology when I was in high school, so I did biology. I didn't much like it. It meant dissecting fishes and things like that. I still wanted to go to Africa. If I couldn't go to Africa then it would be Canada, or it would be South America, somewhere in wilderness areas. And that was the dream, but for girls, there was no career in that sort of thing. And when the career lady came to the school, and she heard that I wanted to go out and study animals in the wild, she just laughed and said, "That's impossible. The best thing..." It was my mother talking to her, or no, it was my headmistress, I think, 'cause I was sick, and the headmistress questioned her. And she said, "No, no. Tell this child that we can arrange a nice career for her photographing pet dogs and cats."

So you finished high school. What did you do for work in the years following graduation?

Jane Goodall: When I left school, I was 18. I'd done really well in all my exams. My friends all went -- most of them went -- to the university, but we didn't have enough money. And in those days you had to be good in a foreign language in order to get a scholarship. It was just after the war, and I wasn't good in a foreign language. I still am not. So it was, again, my mother. She said, "Well, do a secretarial course, and then maybe you can get a job in Africa." Well, that's what I did. And the first job I had was in Oxford, working at the registry. So I actually got the whole idea of what it was like to be a student without any of the work. All my friends were students. And then I got a job in London with documentary films. Not secretarial at all. And that was amazing, so I learned all about the whole of making a film. And it's been so useful to me in my life. And then I got this letter from a school friend inviting me to Kenya. That was the opportunity. And so I quit the job in London, couldn't save money there. Went home, worked as a waitress. That was one way of getting some money.

This was an old-fashioned family hotel, around the corner from us, by the seaside. People didn't have much money, so after the war they came down from up north and they stayed for a week. So I had to work really hard for a week. All the other staff were professionals -- professional wait people. And at first they resented me totally. And it was kind of bizarre because my uncle at the same time was presenting me at court to the Queen. So here I was. And anyway, the other waiters and waitresses thought that I would be snooty and just, you know, leave them in the lurch and go off if I felt like it, and go out to dinner with boyfriends, but I didn't, you see. I took it seriously. I was going to do it. I was going to do it well. So they accepted me, and I learned all about these fascinating... they were all Irish Catholic. They'd come over and they were professionals. And I'd befriended -- or I was befriended by -- the wine waiter, who married the head waitress. And, you know, it was a whole new life, but it took about four or five months before I'd saved up enough wages and tips. And that was by telling all the people at my tables that I was saving up to go to Africa, so they gave me a little bit more, perhaps. And finally I had enough money. Got a return fare by boat, which was the cheapest. And so I was 23 years old. I said goodbye to family, friends and country, and set off on this amazing journey which, you know, has led me along the path that my life followed ever since.

After you had begun your work in Africa, while you were studying at Cambridge, you began to create a permanent research center at Gombe Stream. What went into that effort? What were some of the obstacles that you encountered?

Jane Goodall: I'll never forget the day when I suddenly realized I had to go back to continue at Cambridge to do another term. And I suddenly thought, "We don't have to close the camp. We can find somebody. You will come and at least temporarily carry on."

We found a young man that wanted to study micro fungi, and he came and took over and made a few observations. My cook made a few observations. It wasn't scientific, but at least there was somebody there recording, you know, Goliath and David Greybeard and things like that. And then this worked so well that we asked the Geographic if they would find a student. And so the first student came out. I think it was 1964. And that was the beginning of a series of students, and building up a research center which eventually had connections with Cambridge University in the UK and Stanford in U.S.A. And it became a large multidisciplinary field station, very exciting, many students. And it was probably at its peak when suddenly one night it all came to an end with rebels from Congo coming over the lake, kidnapping four students, and taking them away to where we knew not. We didn't know where they'd gone. We didn't know who'd kidnapped them. It was absolutely devastating, and it could very well have brought the entire thing to a close.

But you went on and created the Jane Goodall Institute. How did that come about?

Jane Goodall Interview Photo
Jane Goodall: The Jane Goodall Institute was created by this wonderful woman, Princess Genevieve di San Faustino. And it was because, in 1975, when my students were kidnapped, I could not get the grants that I'd been getting before, because there was no Ph.D. in residence. It wasn't allowed by the Tanzanian government after that kidnapping. And so it was Jenny who said, "Well, if we create a Jane Goodall Institute you can raise money yourself, and it can be a not-for-profit." So basically it was created to raise the money to keep the research at Gombe going, but with the idea that it would also be intended in the future to raise money for conservation and for conservation education. So that's why it was created. It was because it was the only way of getting the money that was necessary to keep going.

It took a few years, didn't it, for that to happen? What was the role of the Getty Endowment?

Jane Goodall: The Getty Endowment. After creating the JGI, for a long time it just sat on paper, and I was still getting some money from Geographic and other such organizations, the Leakey Foundation. And then the National Geographic produced a film, Among the Wild Chimpanzees, and I thought, "Well, maybe we can use this." Do premieres, maybe raise some money, maybe create an endowment so that I'm not always living hand-to-mouth, so that there can be some continuity of the Gombe research. So it won't be, at the end of every year, "Will I be able to get money for the next year?" Let's build up some kind of endowment or trust. So using that film, premiering that film, which the Geographic allowed me to do in five cities, I asked Gordon Getty if he would match the money that I could raise. And actually, he put a ceiling on it, which doesn't sound much these days: a quarter of a million dollars. And I raised far more than that, but he wouldn't match it up beyond the quarter million dollars.

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