On This Day … 24 January

People (Births)

  • 1850 – Hermann Ebbinghaus, German psychologist (d. 1909).
  • 1853 – Sigbert Josef Maria Ganser, German psychiatrist (d. 1931).

People (Deaths)

  • 1971 – Bill W., American activist, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (b. 1895).

Hermann Ebbinghaus

Hermann Ebbinghaus (24 January 1850 to 26 February 1909) was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect.

He was also the first person to describe the learning curve. He was the father of the neo-Kantian philosopher Julius Ebbinghaus.

Sigbert Josef Maria Ganser

Sigbert Josef Maria Ganser (24 January 1853 to 04 January 1931) was a German psychiatrist born in Rhaunen.

He earned his medical doctorate in 1876 from the University of Munich. Afterwards he worked briefly at a psychiatric clinic in Würzburg, and later as an assistant to neuroanatomist Bernhard von Gudden (1824-1886) in Munich. In 1886, he became head of the psychiatric department at Dresden General Hospital. Among his students was neurologist Hans Queckenstedt (1876-1918).

Sigbert Ganser is remembered for a hysterical disorder that he first described in 1898. He identified the disorder in three prisoners while working at a prison in Halle. The features included approximate or nonsensical answers to simple questions, perceptual abnormalities, and clouding of consciousness. Ganser believed that these symptoms were an associative reaction caused by an unconscious attempt by the patient to escape from an intolerable mental situation. The disorder was to become known as Ganser syndrome.

Bill W.

William Griffith Wilson (26 November 1895 to 24 January 1971), also known as Bill Wilson or Bill W., was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

AA is an international mutual aid fellowship with about 2 million members worldwide belonging to approximately 10,000 groups, associations, organisations, cooperatives, and fellowships of alcoholics helping other alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety. Following AA’s Twelfth Tradition of anonymity, Wilson is commonly known as “Bill W.” or “Bill.” In order to identify each other, members of AA will sometimes ask others if they are “friends of Bill”. Although this question can be confusing, because “Bill” is a common name, it does provide a means of establishing the common experience of AA membership. After Wilson’s death in 1971, and amidst much controversy within the fellowship, his full name was included in obituaries by journalists who were unaware of the significance of maintaining anonymity within the organisation.

Wilson’s sobriety from alcohol, which he maintained until his death, began 11 December 1934. In 1955 Wilson turned over control of AA to a board of trustees. Wilson died of emphysema complicated by pneumonia from smoking tobacco in 1971. In 1999 Time listed him as “Bill W.: The Healer” in the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.

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