Marie Equi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Marie Equi
Marie Equi.jpg
Born Marie Diana Equi
(1872-04-07)April 7, 1872
New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died July 13, 1952(1952-07-13) (aged 80)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Occupation Physician, abortionist, anarchist

Dr. Marie Diana Equi (April 7, 1872, New Bedford, Massachusetts – July 13, 1952, Portland, Oregon) was an American medical doctor and anarchist. Her father was Italian and her mother of Irish parentage.


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 July 21, 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,[1] Holcomb ultimately did not receive the $100. However, the community was supportive of Equi's actions. The whip became the subject of a raffle, and the proceeds, exceeding $100, were granted to the two women.[citation needed]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

An assistant with a patient at Equi's Portland, Oregon office

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".[5][6] 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".[7]

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 December 31, 1918, she was convicted of sedition under the newly revised Espionage Act for a speech made at the IWW hall opposing World War I.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] They lived in the Gander Ridge section of Goose Hollow at 1423 SW Hall.[11] Harriet Speckart lived in Seaside, Oregon, until her death from a brain tumor at the age of 44 on May 15, 1927, after which Mary came to live with her "da" in Portland. On July 13, 1952, aged 80, Equi died in Portland at Fairlawn Hospital.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Helquist, Michael. "Marie Equi (1872-1952)". Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  2. ^ NLM, Changing the Face of Medicine.
  3. ^ Oregon History Project
  4. ^ Nancy Krieger. Queen of the Bolsheviks: The Hidden History of Dr. Marie Equi 1983
  5. ^ Schwartz claimed that Sanger's descendants denied historian Jonathan Ned Katz access to Equi's letters to Sanger. Judith Schwartz. "The Archivist's Balancing Act: Helping Researchers While Protecting Individual Privacy," The Journal of American History June 1979, pp.179-189.
  6. ^ See also James Vinson Carmichael, Daring to Find Our Names: The Search for Lesbigay Library History (Greenwood Press, 1998, ISBN 0-313-29963-3), p.172 (describing Schwartz' article and the Katz/Sanger incident).
  7. ^ Krieger.
  8. ^ Hodges, Michael (Fall 2007). "At War Over the Espionage Act in Portland". Oregon Historical Quarterly 108 (3). 
  9. ^ a b Cook 1997
  10. ^ Faderman 1999, p. 162
  11. ^ Prince, Tracy J. (2011). Portland's Goose Hollow. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-7385-7472-1. 


External links[edit]

  • Media related to Marie Equi at Wikimedia Commons