1901 — Queen Victoria of the British Empire dies

One of the most famous monarchs of all time, yet often seen as little more than a figurehead used by the revolving cast of Prime Ministers and other government officials, Victoria gave her name to her era, an era characterised by colonialism and industrialisation.

She reigned as Queen longer than any other British Monarch, ruling for an astonishing 63 years and seven months. She was also the first known haemophiliac in the British Royal Family, and spent the last 40 years of her life grieving for her dead husband.

Referenced in:
Victoria — The Kinks
Queen Victoria — Leonard Cohen

1973 — The Roe v. Wade case is decided

One of, if not the, most controversial cases in the history of jurisprudence in the United States, Roe v. Wade (in full: Jane Roe, et al. v. Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County) was the decision that drew the line stating where in a pregnancy an abortion could occur – and not coincidentally, drew a big line in the cultural divide of America.

Ultimately, the decision provided that abortions could occur at any point prior to the third trimester of the pregnancy – and being the decision of the highest Federal court, it overrode the laws and court decisions of every state in the union. The court’s decision was based on the Constitutional right to due process (as specified in the 14th Amendment), and the more implicit right to privacy.

The decision satisfied no one, and the debate regarding abortion (for a value of debate that includes the occasional murder committed by people who hold “thou shalt not kill” as one of their most sacred moral precepts) continues even today.

Referenced in:

Soldiers of Christ — Jill Sobule

2008 — Heath Ledger dies

Heath Ledger was riding high as 2007 ended. The gossip about his performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” was that it was nothing short of a revelation, and even though the film was still months away from release, people were openly speculating about Ledger’s chances of winning an Oscar for the role.

Ledger himself was working on his next film, “The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus”, directed by Terry Gilliam, but he was having trouble sleeping. And he was taking pills to deal with his insomnia – pills that, on the night of January 21, he seems to have taken for too many of them. Ledger was found dead in his room early the following morning By his housekeeper and his masseuse.

He was later awarded the 2008 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, posthumously (only the second actor ever to win in that way).

Referenced in:
Vlad the Impaler — Kasabian