Jane Goodall: Raising a TCK During Her Influential Animal Research in Tanzania

Goodall kisses her son on the cheek. (Image credit: Jane Goodall Institute/Hugo van Lawick)

Jane Goodall spent decades researching in Gombe, Tanzania not only leaving her mark in the scientific community, but also raising her son.

Researcher Jane Goodall in a brown turtleneck with a blue cardigan and a necklace in the shape of Africa. She's in front of a colorful arrangement of flowers and is an older woman with grey hair.
Jane Goodall (Image credit: U.S. Department of State)

Goodall is an English scientist whose primary work has been in studying the social structure of primates, specifically the chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park. During her research, she married the man tasked to document her work and gave birth to a son following her return to Tanzania from her doctoral studies at Cambridge University.

According to Mothers in Science.com, Goodall’s son Hugo Eric Louis van Lawick was kept in a protective cage built by Goodall as a baby in order to make sure he could be near her safely as she did her work with chimpanzees. Her son stayed by her side as she continued her research until he reached school age. She then sent him to England for his education, but he returned to Tanzania permanently as an adult.

Goodall’s impact on science

Prior to and following the birth of her son, Goodall worked to better understand chimpanzee social interaction. Due to the nature of her research, she built a cage to protect him from the chimpanzees. Her research heavily impacted people’s understanding of animals, specifically animals in Africa.

They can be violent and brutal and can have a kind of war — but [they are] also loving and altruistic.

Jane Goodall on ABC News

Her interactions with animals shaped humanity’s understanding of humans as a part of the animal kingdom. By exploring chimpanzee relationships, ABC News says that she was able to discover how similar the creatures are to humans. She integrated herself into the community of animals and named each creature.

Jane Goodall discussing the parenting characteristics of chimpanzees.

Goodall discovered that chimpanzees built and used tools, had loving families and could have their own conflicts and intra-community wars. With her discoveries, the scientific community’s understanding of non-human animal behaviors was fundamentally changed.

Van Lawick’s life as the child of a world-renowned researcher

Jane Goodall holds her baby and goes in to kiss his cheek. She is younger here and has her hair tied back, her run is in a crocheted outfit.
Goodall and her son. (Image credit: Jane Goodall Institute/Hugo van Lawick)

Van Lawick was born to two British parents, Goodall and Hugo van Lawick. His father worked for National Geographic and traveled to Tanzania to document Goodall’s research. Due to Goodall’s son being raised partially in Tanzania to British parents and sent to boarding school in the U.K., he is considered a Third Culture Kid (TCK).

In addition to spending his early years by his mother’s side while she researched, Goodall sent Van Lawick to England once he reached school age. He returned home to Tanzania once finishing school and became a boat builder. According to Mothers In Science.com, he and his mother work together on conservation projects.

While he has discussed some conflicts he had with his mother, her choice to go abroad to Tanzania with no formal education helped form who he was and shaped his future.

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