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“Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall”

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Jane Goodall Exhibit Intro

“Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall” Virtual Exhibit

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We continue with Jane’s formative years as a curious child with an undeniable connection with the animal world. Despite the challenges of growing up in England during World War II, Jane’s mother Vanne supported her early curiosity. When Jane was around four years old, she was determined to understand where eggs came from. One day, Jane disappeared for five hours. Just as her parents were about to call the police, she emerged from the henhouse where she’d been patiently observing the hens—one of her first animal observations—in order to learn how an egg was laid.

Also in this room is one of Jane’s earliest and most beloved treasures—her plush chimpanzee, Jubilee—given to her by her father in 1935 when she was a baby. Her beloved plush was named after the first chimpanzee baby born at the London Zoo, who himself was named in honor of King George V to celebrate his 25th year on the throne—his silver Jubilee.

Getting to Gombe

We turn the corner to learn about Jane’s journey from England to Kenya. Since Jane’s family had very little growing up, she could only afford to go to secretarial school. However, her dream to study wild animals remained. Jane took various jobs, including working at a film studio and as a waitress in order to save money. At 23, she was finally able to afford a ticket aboard a ship to Kenya to visit a family friend. Her interest in wildlife eventually led to a meeting with famed paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey. As fate would have it, he needed a new secretary. 

At the time, Dr. Leakey was making groundbreaking discoveries about human evolution. Since chimpanzees and humans share a recent common ancestor, he believed that learning about chimpanzee behavior would provide insights into the minds of early humans. Dr. Leakey was impressed with Jane’s intelligence and patience. In 1960 he asked Jane to travel to Gombe Stream Reserve in Tanganyika (now Tanzania, having gained its independence in 1961) to observe wild chimpanzees. Her dream of living with wild animals was finally coming true.


Ahead, we walk into a replica of Jane’s research tent in what was then known as Gombe Stream Game Reserve—affectionately dubbed “Chimpland” by Jane. At the time, a young woman like Jane had to have a chaperone, so her mother Vanne—who’d always been supportive of Jane’s dreams—accompanied her to Tanganyika, now Tanzania. 

For the next six months, and without any formal training or a university degree, Jane undertook the first formal long-term study of chimpanzees living in the wild. Every day, Jane woke before sunrise and returned to camp after dark. While in the field observing the chimpanzees, Jane took extensive, meticulous notes on their behavior. In the evenings she transcribed her notes into a comprehensive journal by lamplight. The only tools Jane took into the field were binoculars, a notebook, and a pen or pencil. She dressed in the same simple outfit each day: a khaki shirt and shorts, and sandals or sneakers. 

Memories Of Gombe 

At the end of the tent we approach a hologram of Jane. We’re invited to take a seat around the campfire and listen as she recalls her memories of Gombe, accompanied by images from the National Geographic archives. 

Her story is one of perseverance, dedication, determination and sometimes frustration. The holographic Jane shares how, after weeks of diligent searching for the chimpanzees, she finally found them, only to have them run off every time she got close. However she later discovered a peak near the camp that served as the perfect vantage point to observe the chimpanzees at a distance. Using her spotting scope—on display in the case behind us—she began to learn more and more about their daily behavior. This area is particularly special: the audio you hear reflects real sounds of Gombe at night, including the birds, bugs, breeze, and lapping water of Lake Tanganyika. 


Now we enter the museum’s 3D theater to virtually travel to the forests of Gombe National Park. We listen as Jane reads from her field notebook and explains her many challenging days of observation. 

“I felt frustration, even despair,” says Jane. “But my determination to succeed grew stronger. I often thought ‘this is where I belong. This is what I came into the world to do.’” 

Her patience paid off when she spotted two male chimpanzees. She named one Goliath for his imposing size, and the other David Greybeard, who remains her favorite. Giving research subjects names rather than numbers was unorthodox, and Jane was challenged for some of her methods. But her research has stood the test of time. Her steadfast determination 60 years ago led to significant discoveries that transformed our understanding of chimpanzees, and ultimately humankind. 


As we exit the theater, we learn more about Jane’s findings. She discovered that chimpanzees have complex social structures, individual personalities, intelligence, and intricate bonds between mothers and their young. Some of her more significant discoveries are detailed in three holographic videos that bring Jane’s field notebook to life. The illustrations leap from the notebook and explain how Jane discovered similarities between humans and chimpanzees: they make beds (or tree nests), are omnivores, and engage in a kind of warfare. 

To our right, we hear the voice of Bill Wallauer, scientific advisor and filmmaker for the Jane Goodall Institute, who explains how chimpanzees communicate through vocalizations and body language. The Chimp Chat interactive feature encourages us to match the many vocalizations of a chimpanzee. If we do so correctly, the chimpanzee on the screen confirms whether we’ve done a “good job” or if we need to “try again.” How well can you match these chimp vocalizations?


While Jane was learning about the behavior of chimpanzee mothers and their infants, she became a mother herself. In 1964, she married Hugo van Lawick, a photographer assigned to document her work for National Geographic. Three years later, they had a baby boy named Hugo Eric Louis, affectionately referred to as Grub. 

“There is no doubt that my observations of the chimpanzees helped me to be a better mother,” Jane recalls. “But, I found also that the experience of being myself a mother helped me understand chimpanzee maternal behavior.”


We enter the next room to learn about the moment when Jane evolved from scientist to activist. From the 1960s and well into the 1980s, Jane helped establish the Gombe Stream Research Center, and she published a number of scholarly articles and books. In 1977, Jane  founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global community-centered conservation organization that advances her vision and work in more than 30 countries around the world. JGI aims to understand and protect chimpanzees, other apes, and their habitats, and empower people to become compassionate citizens in order to inspire conservation of the natural world. 

At a scientific conference in 1986, Jane learned of the plight facing wild chimpanzees all across Africa—they were disappearing. On display is a program from the conference that ultimately led Jane to leave behind her field work in Gombe to dedicate the rest of her life to helping other animals, people, and the environment.


Jane has five reasons for hope: the passion of young people, the human brain, the resilience of nature, the power of social media, and the indomitable human spirit. She firmly believes in the importance of empowering young people to fight for social change. In 1991, JGI developed the Roots & Shoots program, which provides resources to encourage and motivate young people to take action on issues important to them. Today, the program empowers youth in all 50 states in the U.S. and over 60 countries to use their voices and ideas to address the community issues that matter to them most. 

A life-size video of Jane implores us to join her on her mission to make the world a better place. “Every individual matters, has a role to play, and makes an impact on the planet every single day,” she says. 

Sign Up to be a part of Roots & Shoots Project of the month “Save the Monarchs” by the Hutchings Museum!