Partner Harriet Speckart, buried together
University of Oregon, 1585 E 13th Ave, Eugene, OR 97403, Stati Uniti
Nortonia Hotel, 409 SW 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97205, Stati Uniti
1423 SW Hall St, Portland, OR 97201, USA
Wilhelm Portland Memorial, 6705 SE 14th Ave, Portland, OR 97202, Stati Uniti
Marie Equi (April 7, 1872 – July 13, 1952) was an early American medical doctor in the American West devoted to providing care to working-class and poor patients. She regularly provided birth control information and abortions at a time when both were illegal. She became a political activist and advocated civic and economic reforms, including women's right to vote and an eight-hour workday. After being clubbed by a policeman in a 1913 workers' strike, Equi aligned herself with anarchists and the radical labor movement.
Equi was a lesbian who maintained a primary relationship with Harriet Frances Speckart (1883 - May 15, 1927) for more than a decade. The two women adopted an infant and raised the child in an early example of a same-sex alternative family. For her radical politics and same-sex relations, Equi battled discrimination and harassment. In 1918, Equi was convicted under the Sedition Act for speaking against U.S. involvement in World War I. She was sentenced to a three-year term at San Quentin State Prison. She was the only known lesbian and radical to be incarcerated at the prison.
In the late 19th century, little was known or publicly discussed about same-sex affairs between women. Instead in some spheres of society in the United States, people recognized “romantic friendships” among women. Wealthy and professional women at the time undertook what were called “Boston Marriages.” These associations entailed varying degrees of emotional and affectionate intimacy between two women and, often, sexual activity as well.
Marie Equi once remarked that as a young woman she had spurned the interests of a young man, and she expressed little interest in a heterosexual pairing or marriage. Equi’s lengthy relationship with Bessie Holcomb, from 1892 until 1901, was dissimilar from the Boston Marriages adopted by upper-class women due to Equi’s working-class background. Equi lived much of her adult life with other women, but she was never a separatist. She treated male patients in her medical practice, and she worked closely with men in many of her political activities. She undertook the longest lesbian relationship of her life in 1905 after meeting a younger woman, Harriet Speckart, the niece of Olympia Brewing Company founder Leopold Schmidt. Speckart’s family was vehemently opposed to the two women’s relationship, and Speckart battled in the courts for years with her mother and brother to receive her rightful inheritance. After ten years of sharing a life together, Equi and Speckart adopted an infant girl, Mary, because Speckart wanted to raise a child. As an adult, Mary recalled that she had called Speckart “ma” and Equi “da” since everyone called Equi “Doc.” In later years the two women separated but remained close until Speckart’s death in 1927.
Equi also became involved with other prominent, professional women. When birth control advocate Margaret Sanger lectured in Portland in 1916, Equi became smitten with her. She later wrote letters to Sanger that referred to sexual intimacy between them during Sanger's earlier visit. Archivist Judith Schwartz has described Equi's letters to Sanger as "love letters."
For lengthy periods between 1926 and 1936 Equi invited the IWW leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to live with her and help care for Equi’s daughter. Flynn suffered serious health problems, including exhaustion from overwork and depression from political setbacks. Equi, Flynn, and Equi’s daughter lived at 1423 SW Hall in Portland’s westside neighborhood—Gander Ridge of Goose Hollow at 1423 SW Hall. In 1930 Equi suffered a heart attack, sold her medical practice, and asked Flynn to assist her for several more years. Finally Flynn retreated to the East and resumed her work. She became a national leader of the Communist Party USA.
Equi led a quiet life following the departure of Flynn and then the elopement of her daughter. Radical and labor leaders continued to revere her for her courage and compassion during earlier decades; several visited her at her house.
In 1950 Equi fractured her hip in a fall and spent a year at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland and then to a nursing home outside Portland near the town of Gresham. She died at Fairlawn Hospital on July 13, 1952 at 80 years of age. Her obituaries ran in newspapers across the country, including those in Portland, New Bedford, Massachusetts, and in the New York Times. Equi’s activist friend Julia Ruuttila described her as “a woman of passion and conviction (and) a real friend of the have-nots of this world.” She is buried alongside Harriet Speckart at Wilhelm's Portland Memorial, Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon.
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