On This Day … 11 November

People (Births)

  • 1743 – Carl Peter Thunberg, Swedish botanist, entomologist, and psychologist (d. 1828).
  • 1891 – Grunya Sukhareva, Ukrainian-Russian psychiatrist and university lecturer (d. 1981).

People (Deaths)

  • 2002 – Frances Ames, South African neurologist, psychiatrist, and human rights activist (b. 1920).

Carl Peter Thunberg

Carl Peter Thunberg, also known as Karl Peter von Thunberg, Carl Pehr Thunberg, or Carl Per Thunberg (11 November 1743 to 08 August 1828), was a Swedish naturalist and an “apostle” of Carl Linnaeus.

After studying under Linnaeus at Uppsala University, he spent seven years travelling in southern Africa and Asia, collecting and describing many plants and animals new to European science, and observing local cultures. He has been called “the father of South African botany”, “pioneer of Occidental Medicine in Japan”, and the “Japanese Linnaeus”.

Grunya Sukhareva

Grunya Efimovna Sukhareva (11 November 1891 to 26 April 1981) was a Soviet child psychiatrist.

She was the first to publish a detailed description of autistic symptoms in 1925. The original paper was in Russian and published in German a year later. Sula Wolff translated it in 1996 for the English-speaking world.

She initially used the term “schizoid psychopathy”, “schizoid” meaning “eccentric” at the time, but later replaced it with “autistic (pathological avoidant) psychopathy” to describe the clinical picture of autism. The article was created almost two decades before the case reports of Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner, which were published while Sukhareva’s pioneering work remained unnoticed. This is possibly because of various political and language barriers at the time. Her name was transliterated as “Ssucharewa” when her papers appeared in Germany, and the autism researcher Hans Asperger likely chose not to cite her work, due to his affiliation with the Nazi Party and her Jewish heritage.

Frances Ames

Frances Rix Ames (20 April 1920 to 11 November 2002) was a South African neurologist, psychiatrist, and human rights activist, best known for leading the medical ethics inquiry into the death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died from medical neglect after being tortured in police custody.

When the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) declined to discipline the chief district surgeon and his assistant who treated Biko, Ames and a group of five academics and physicians raised funds and fought an eight-year legal battle against the medical establishment. Ames risked her personal safety and academic career in her pursuit of justice, taking the dispute to the South African Supreme Court, where she eventually won the case in 1985.

Born in Pretoria and raised in poverty in Cape Town, Ames became the first woman to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Cape Town in 1964. Ames studied the effects of cannabis on the brain and published several articles on the subject. Seeing the therapeutic benefits of cannabis on patients in her own hospital, she became an early proponent of legalisation for medicinal use. She headed the neurology department at Groote Schuur Hospital before retiring in 1985, but continued to lecture at Valkenberg and Alexandra Hospital. After apartheid was dismantled in 1994, Ames testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about her work on the “Biko doctors” medical ethics inquiry. In 1999, Nelson Mandela awarded Ames the Star of South Africa, the country’s highest civilian award, in recognition of her work on behalf of human rights.

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