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June 2018

National Park Service Honors Marie Equi During LGBTQ Pride Month

As Pride Month comes to a close, author Michael Helquist reports on some hometown pride that was a long time coming.




Although no organized LGBT community existed at the time on the West Coast, Equi lived openly with women in intimate relationships. In 1915 she and her lover, Harriet Speckart, adopted an infant together in what was one of the first occasions when a publicly known lesbian legally adopted a child.
Marie Equi had been little known in her hometown of New Bedford until the last few years. When I took my book tour to the city and to the greater Boston area, local enthusiasts asked why they had never heard of her.  I spoke at the New Bedford Public Library, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum, and was interviewed on 1420 WBSM radio. I’m excited that Marie Equi is receiving more recognition in her home town and in Massachusetts and that the National Park Service has recognized her historical significance.
The Marie Equi exhibit continues through June.  The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park office (with the exhibit) is located at 33 William Street, New Bedford; open from 9am to 5pm Sunday through Saturday, closed on Wednesdays. (508) 996-4095 for more information.
Michael Helquist
For the first time, the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park of the National Park Service is recognizing LGBTQ Pride during the month of June.  The inaugural Pride exhibit features Dr. Marie Equi, the longtime agitator for social and economic justice who spent her early years, 1872 to 1892, in New Bedford along the southeast coast of Massachusetts. The exhibit, curated by Aneshia Savino, presents descriptions and photos of Marie Equi with five primary themes from her life as an Activist, Daughter, Doctor, Lesbian, and Mother. Participants at the exhibit’s opening night were offered pins with Equi’s likeness to wear.
Born in 1872 on Second Street along New Bedford’s famed whaling waterfront, Equi was the fifth child and fifth daughter of John Equi, and Italian immigrant from Tuscany, and Sarah Mullins, and Irish immigrant from County Tyrone, Ireland. Four additional children followed. She attended grade school in New Bedford but had to drop out of high school to work in local textile mills to help support the family. Equi later homesteaded in Oregon, self-studied her way into medical school, and became an early woman physician in Portland.
Equi was a strong advocate of women’s rights. She used her professional standing to help drive the campaign for woman suffrage. She also believed in reproductive rights and was jailed with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger for distributing pamphlets about limiting family size. Her passion for justice also led her to provide abortions to her patients. She protested unjust working conditions for laborers and aligned herself with the radical labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World.  She objected to World War I and lectured against unfair wartime measures.
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