Dr. Alison Jolly 1937 — 2014

Dr. Alison Jolly passed away on February 6, 2014 at the age of 76.  She was a primatologist (who also happened to be a wife and mother of four) who rocked the science community with her research in evolutionary biology that challenged the assumption of male dominance among primates.  Until her work with the lemurs of Madagascar in the 1960’s, the default assumption was that males dominated females of every primate species (including humans).  This theory was based on behavioral studies of chimps and orangutans (and presumably humans) and how they developed weapons and tools.  Of course, if you think all of evolution could only move forward by these mechanical methods, than that might seem like a solid theory.  But Dr. Jolly found another facet of evolution: the ability to form social networks and mutual ties, or to “specialize in sociability.”

She was also a spearhead of environmental activism, and an advocate for preservation of Madagascar.   In 2006 the Microcebus jollyae, a new species of mouse lemur, was named in her honor.

Oh, and she also wrote a series of children’s books with a focus on environmental awareness:  The Ako Series:  Madagascar Lemur Adventures

I regret that I never learned about Dr. Jolly in school (and I can’t recall either of my daughters learning about her either), yet she’s a wonderful role model for both STEM education and career paths for women in research.   Instead of getting all riled up about “banning bossy,” and asking “How does she do it all?”  we should be promoting ways to support women and girls to pursue education and to amplify their voices in science, mathematics, economics and the arts.




6 thoughts on “Dr. Alison Jolly 1937 — 2014

  1. Love how you always teach me something new. And I agree – Dr. Jolly was revolutionary and a great role model for girls and women. I, too, did not learn of her till now. Great research!

    1. Thanks, Cathrina. This little post barely does Dr. Jolly justice, but if it sparks anybody to research more I feel good about that.

  2. Wonderful Post, Rosie. I never learned about Dr. Jolly in school either. But I think there were a few documentaries on her work that I may have seen. I remember being very young and watching something on NOVA that dealt with a female biologist working with Lemurs in Madagascar.

    1. Thanks, Eric. I get excited when I see folks like Dr. Jolly….then I get angry that I discovered them so “late.”

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