Person Of The Week: Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall's lifetime research proved chimps live similar lives to humans.

ByABC News
October 21, 2010, 5:47 PM

Oct. 22, 2010— -- Earthworms were the beginning of a childhood dream for Jane Goodall. Her mother told a story of going to Goodall's room when she was 1½ years old.

"She'd found I'd taken a whole handful of earthworms to bed with me," Goodall said, "and instead of getting mad, she said very quietly, 'They'll die if you leave them here, they need dirt.' So together we took them back into the garden."

That kind of support always came from her mother, who encouraged her to seek her dreams, Goodall said.

"All I knew is that I wanted to go to Africa to study animals and write books about them, so I never went to university after school because we couldn't afford it. We didn't have any money," she said.

Goodall was born in southern England. Her father went to fight in World War II, leaving her mother, Vanne, to raise Jane and her sister alone.

Since college was impossible, her mother suggested Goodall take a secretarial course. So she got a secretarial job with Louis Leakey, the famed paleontologist. Goodall got to travel to Africa with Leakey.

It was in the Serengeti plains that Leakey realized Goodall was capable of much more than a secretary.

"He just saw that I was very passionate about being out in the wilderness and animals, that I was a good observer," Goodall said. "Most important of all, he could see I had patience and that I knew how to behave out in the bush even though I hadn't grown up there."

Click here to read more about Jane Goodall in National Geographic's October issue.

Leakey sent Goodall to Tanzania to observe chimpanzees in the wild in hopes that their behavior could help explain his research on early humans.

"Louis Leakey had faith and he obviously saw something in me, got the money, got the permission, and off I went," Goodall said. "It was a crazy idea: Most people thought, 'this young girl, no degree, out in a potentially dangerous situation.'

"In the end, they said, 'Alright, but she must have a companion,'" Goodall said. "So who volunteered to come? My same amazing mother."

In July 1960, 26-year-old Goodall and her mother set up camp at the Gombe Stream National Park, where they no longer were looking at just earthworms.