On May 16, 1717, French writer Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, is imprisoned in the Bastille. His satirical attack on politics and religion had infuriated the government, and Voltaire was arrested. Several times in his life, Voltaire was forced to flee one step ahead of arrest.
On May 18, 1861, the Humboldt Times newspaper casts first lady Mary Todd Lincoln in an unflat tering light when it recounts a tale of how Mrs. Lincoln had usurped her husband's presidential duty of appointing federal offices. According to the report, Mary Todd Lincoln took it upon herself to appoint a stranger to any office he desired.
On May 14, 1916, a lead article in the Times of London proclaims that an insufficiency of munitions is leading to defeat for Britain on the battlefields of World War I. The article prompted the creation of a Ministry of Munitions.
On May 15, 1942, gasoline rationing begins in 17 Eastern states as an attempt to help the American war effort during World War II. By the end of the year, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt had ensured that mandatory gasoline rationing was in effect in all 50 states.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public education is unconstitutional. The decision dealt with Linda Brown, a young black girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school.
On May 19, 1967, one of the first major treaties designed to limit the spread of nuclear weapons goes into effect as the Soviet Union ratifies an agreement banning nuclear weapons from outer space. The United States, Great Britain and several dozen other nations had already signed and/or ratified the treaty.
On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II is shot and wounded at St. Peter's Square in Rome by Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca. Agca claimed that he had planned to go to England to kill the king, but it turned out there was only a queen and "Turks don't shoot women."