Last night while anarchists were breaking Starbucks windows, I was getting cozy with some tater tots and Working Man's Red beer at the Kennedy School for their monthly history pub. What I learned was astounding. What I learned is that I am totally in love with an anarachist: Dr. Marie Equi, a rabble-rousing queer Portland doctor from days yore. She has the world's most badass Wikipedia entry.
There's no need to even quote from Heather Mayer's lecture last night about women and radicalism and a Portland cannery strike in 1913. I'm just going to post the entire Wikipedia entry for Dr. Equi and you, too, will be amazed.
In 1893, she moved to The Dalles, Oregon with her friend Bess Holcomb, who had been offered work as a teacher. The two lived together quietly in what has been called a "Boston marriage". On 21 July 1893, Equi was the subject of an article in "The Dalles Times-Mountaineer", the local newspaper. According to the article, which referred to Equi as "Miss Aqua", Holcomb's employer, Reverend Orson D. Taylor, refused to pay Holcomb a promised $100, and in response Equi threatened to publicly horsewhip him. Although Equi was able to carry out her threat, Holcomb ultimately did not receive the $100. However, the community were very supportive of Equi's actions. The whip became the subject of a raffle, and the proceeds, exceeding $100, were granted to the two women.
A few years later, the pair moved to San Francisco, California, where Equi began studying medicine. She completed her degree in 1903 at the University of Oregon in Portland, Oregon, one of the first classes to admit women. In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, she organized a group of doctors and nurses to provide humanitarian aid in the wake of the disaster, earning her a special commendation from the United States Army.
Soon after, she met Harriet Speckart, who worked as her assistant. The two began a relationship, sharing residence in various locations in Portland. Speckart, the niece of Olympia Brewing Company founder Leo Schmidt, did not abandon the relationship despite various attempts by her family, including the threat to revoke her inheritance.
Equi was one of several doctors in Portland who performed abortions, and did so without regard for social class or status. She was active in the movement to provide access and information about birth control. She also knew Margaret Sanger, and may have had a relationship with her — archivist Judith Schwartz described Equi's letters to Sanger as "love letters". Equi was active in the women's suffrage movement in Oregon, which achieved success in 1912 when the state granted women the right to vote.
In 1913, she visited the site of a strike by women cherry sorters at the Oregon Packing Company, during a strike action supported by the Industrial Workers of the World among others. While attending to an injured worker, she was attacked by the police, whose brutality in attempting to end the strike led Equi to denounce capitalism and become an anarchist.
In 1915, Equi adopted an infant girl, Mary, because Speckart wanted to raise a child. Mary later came to prominence herself, when at age 16 she became the youngest woman in the Pacific Northwest to fly an airplane solo. Mary referred to Speckart as her "ma" and Equi as her "da".
In 1916, Equi joined the American Union Against Militarism. During a war-preparedness rally in downtown Portland, she unfurled a banner reading "PREPARE TO DIE, WORKINGMEN, J.P. MORGAN & CO. WANT PREPAREDNESS FOR PROFIT", which set off a minor riot and led to her arrest. On 31 December 1918 she was convicted of sedition under the newly-revised Espionage Act for a speech made at the IWW hall opposing World War I. Her lawyers were unsuccessful in their attempts to overturn her conviction, and her daughter later recalled how she and her mother were spat upon in the streets during this period. For this reason, Speckart took Mary to Seaside, Oregon. Equi and Speckart never lived together again. In October 1920 Equi began her 3-year sentence at San Quentin State Prison, which was later reduced to a year and a half. In prison, she wrote letters to friends, one of which expressed anxiety and doubt about her "queerness," to which her friend reassured her. Although Equi's friends supported her they were unable to secure her pardon.
Some time after her release, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to live with Equi, and the two women lived together for ten years.
Speckart lived in Seaside, Oregon, until her death from a brain tumor at the age of 44 on 15 May, 1927, after which Mary came to live with her "da" in Portland. On 13 July, 1952, Equi died in Portland at Fairlawn Hospital.
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