This Day In History, May 9th

What happened on this day in history: Willie Francis faces the electric chair for the second time, the FDA approves the first birth control pill, and more.

1502: Columbus Launches His Final Voyage

Columbus launches his final voyage to the New World. Departing from Cádiz, Spain, Columbus and his crew set sail for Martinique. While in the Caribbean, Columbus and his crew had to ride out a hurricane in modern day Dominican Republic. After the hurricane, Columbus sailed to Central America to explore the region. While there, the native people introduced Columbus and his crew to cocoa for the first time. By September of 1504, Columbus had returned to Spain.

1800: John Brown Is Born

John Brown This Day In History

Wikimedia CommonsJohn Brown in 1846.

American abolitionist John Brown is born in Torrington, Connecticut. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Brown became known for his fervent anti-slavery views. He said that he was an “instrument of God” who had a “sacred obligation” to bring an end to the institution. Ultimately, he famously led a slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1859, for which he was convicted of treason and hanged.

1887: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show Opens In London

Sitting Bull And Buffalo Bill

Wikimedia CommonsBuffalo Bill and Sitting Bull during a performance in Montreal in 1885.

Buffalo Bill‘s Wild West Show opens in London, showcasing the stories and legends of the American West on an international stage. The show reenacted famous events that occurred on the frontier, such as Custer’s Last Stand, train robberies, and Pony Express races. It also featured figures like sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Queen Victoria herself attended a showing, and the spectacle went on to become wildly popular across Europe.

1947: Willie Francis Faces The Electric Chair For The Second Time

Willie Francis

Wikimedia CommonsWillie Francis was just 18 years old when he was put to death by electric chair.

Willie Francis, a Black teenager who was sentenced to death for murder, is put to death a year after the first attempt to execute him failed. In May 1946, Francis survived his first scheduled execution when the electric chair malfunctioned because a drunk prison guard had set it up incorrectly. Francis then appealed his death penalty, citing double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal, and the second attempt to execute Francis was successful.

1960: The First Birth Control Pill Is Approved

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the first commercially-produced birth control pill, Enovid-10. The search for a practical and effective form of birth control had been in progress for several decades, led in part by Margaret Sanger. In the 1950s, John Rock and Gregory Pincus began testing a pill that used synthetic forms of progesterone and estrogen to stop women from ovulating. The contraceptive proved successful, and the FDA’s approval of the pill was a milestone for women’s reproductive freedom.