Paper pub. date
September 2015
ISBN 9780870715952 (paperback)
ISBN 9780870718151 (ebook)
6 x 9, 352 pages. 36 B&W Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Chronology. Index.

Marie Equi

Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions

Michael Helquist

Named a 2016 Stonewall Honor Book by the American Library Association, Marie Equi explores the fiercely independent life of an extraordinary woman. Born of Italian-Irish parents in 1872, Marie Equi endured childhood labor in a gritty Massachusetts textile mill before fleeing to an Oregon homestead with her first longtime woman companion, who described her as impulsive, earnest, and kind-hearted. These traits, along with courage, stubborn resolve, and a passion for justice, propelled Equi through an unparalleled life journey.

Equi self-studied her way into a San Francisco medical school and then obtained her license in Portland to become one of the first practicing woman physicians in the Pacific Northwest. From Pendleton, Portland, Seattle and beyond to Boston and San Francisco, she leveraged her professional status to fight for woman suffrage, labor rights, and reproductive freedom. She mounted soapboxes, fought with police, and spent a night in jail with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. Equi marched so often with unemployed men that the media referred to them as her army. She battled for economic justice at every turn and protested the U.S. entry into World War I, leading to a conviction for sedition and a three-year sentence in San Quentin. Breaking boundaries in all facets of life, she became the first well-known lesbian in Oregon, and her same-sex affairs figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court case.

Marie Equi is a finely written, rigorously researched account of a woman of consequence, who one fellow-activist considered “the most interesting woman that ever lived in this state, certainly the most fascinating, colorful, and flamboyant.” This much-anticipated biography will engage anyone interested in Pacific Northwest history, women’s studies, the history of lesbian and gay rights, and the personal demands of political activism. It is the inspiring story of a singular woman who was not afraid to take risks, who refused to compromise her principles in the face of enormous opposition and adversity, and who paid a steep personal price for living by her convictions.

About the author

  Michael Helquist is an historian, journalist, and editor and has written for several publications, including the Oregon Historical Quarterly, the Journal of Homosexuality, the American Medical News, MS Magazine, The Advocate, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He has edited four volumes on health communication, social marketing, and behavior change. He directed a global AIDS and health communication program and worked on campaigns for safe streets and alternative transportation, development of GLBT history archives, and community resilience and sustainability. Helquist is a Portland native, now living in San Francisco.

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"Helquist sets out primarily to recover the notorious yet elusive Dr. Marie Equi and he succeeds, but he may have redefined our basic understanding of her as well. This biography deserves wide readership and much debate."

Adam J. Hodges, Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Michael Helquist has written a biography of a remarkable woman that every feminist should be familiar with. The book . . . is well researched and provides valuable information about the activists and the politics of the early 20th century."

Old Lesbians Organizing for Change

"Author and historian Michael Helquist skillfully outlines the fierce tenacity and incredible courage Equi exemplifies throughout her life, giving equal attention to her passion for medicine, her lesbian lifestyle and her unwavering commitment to activism. Helquist's tribute to this historical figure is nothing short of brilliant."

Amy Schneider, Eugene Weekly

"Enhanced with extensive notes and an index, Marie Equi vividly portrays the adventurous life of an extraordinary woman. Highly recommended, especially for public and college library Biography and LGBT Studies shelves."

Midwest Book Review

"... It is only with the publication of Michael Helquist's new biography that a giant step has at last been taken towards remedying the neglect of this remarkable woman and fighter for socialism."

John Newsinger, International Socialism

"[Marie] Equi was a complex person who challenged social norms in a variety of ways. One of the few licensed women physicians in Oregon, she lived openly as a lesbian, provided abortion services for women of all classes, supported strikers as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), fought for woman suffrage as a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAW-SA), and opposed the war as a member of the American Union Against Militarism. [Michael] Helquist's account holds all these aspects of her life in balance in an engaging narrative that gives equal weight to her personal, professional, and political life."

Carole R. McCann, Pacific Historical Review

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