Newspapers and advertisers in the early 1900s used “monster” to describe everything from major storms to department store sales. 100 years later, “monster” still conveys new promotions. Here’s one of the latest:
Now you can purchase ebooks at half-price to make your summer more fun and interesting. Oregon State University Press offers 30 recent books at 50% off when you order directly from the Press during the month of May 2020. Titles include:
Dear Gentle Ladies (especially, gentle ladies) and Gentlemen of San Francisco,
At this time every year I commemorate with you the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. I was there, you know, in case my contribution was neglected in your history books.
I understand many of you have lots of time on your hands these days. What better than honoring your city’s centennial of its most famous event by reading an account from someone who was there. For those of you unaware of my heroics in your fair city, I’ll share a few stories. Much of what I will describe was included in my biography that I commissioned. The author likes to say that at some point he realized my story was too remarkable to be wedged in some convoluted novel. He also sensed I was compelling him to change his focus. I did my best, subtle at first but then direct: “Drop what you’re doing; I want a full-book biography!” Look, women don’t get many biographies, not from my days at least. And women never got much without raising their voices, I sure found that. Let’s begin.
The night before the cataclysm, April 17, I attended a lecture in Portland by Oregon’s premiere suffragist and a good friend, Abigail Scott Duniway. It was a rousing declaration of why Oregon’s men should recognize the right of women to have the vote. These men…they were pretty damn slow to come around and it would take THREE more campaigns after 1906 to finally get a majority vote for women.
The next day I was up early starting my rounds at patients’ homes before starting office hours at 10 a.m. I heard a ruckus downtown, and a newsboy ran up panting and yelled “San Francisco nearly destroyed …earthquake … terrible fire.” I was shocked like everyone else. So many of us knew San Francisco well; some here were natives, or started their careers and businesses there. We had family and friends in the city. My mind raced to my first girlfriend, Bessie. We had lived in a homestead in Oregon before moving to San Francisco. That’s where I started medicine.
There were few phones then. Telegraph lines were swamped. There was no way to find out more till the next paper came out. By the next day, Portlanders got their wits about them and organized a relief train to provide anything San Francisco might need: medicines, bandages, clothing, blankets, and foodstuffs. Civic-minded women got Southern Pacific to donate a baggage car and the Pullman Company to lend a passenger car. The top doctor in the city organized a medical relief corps to rush with the supplies to your city engulfed in firestorms. In all what became known as the “doctor train” carried 20 tons of supplies along with 42 doctors and nurses.
I was the only woman doctor on the mission. Why was that? I volunteered for one thing. I was unmarried unlike most of the female doctors in the city. Maybe others were frightened. We were offered a two-month stint that would likely include hardship, exposure to disease, and civil unrest.
We started noticing the damage north of the city. We disembarked the train in Oakland and took a steamer to the Presidio which would be our base of operations. I was in charge of the Oregon nurses, and we moved into the Presidio Hospital and set up an obstetrics ward. It became the “Oregon ward,” and let me tell you we worked long days, often with only snatches of sleep, and rarely had time to enjoy the view of ships coursing through the Golden Gate. During our stay there were 23 healthy newborns delivered at the Oregon ward. The ward where I worked with nurses is still standing at the Presidio today.
The most frightening time at the hospital was when a fire broke out near the ward in the early morning. I raced to the patients with a wheelchair, wrapped each mother and infant with a blanket, eased them into the chair, and wheeled them out of danger. I was deeply moved by the quiet, stoic demeanor of the two dozen mothers. All the agonies and tortures they had suffered before they had been brought to the hospital had so deadened their senses, so numbed their minds, that they faced the fire horror with a spirit of calmest resignation and without fear. They had already suffered too much to suffer more.
I got along well on the base with the nurses, other doctors, and the military. I had company with a colleague, Ms. Gail Laughlin. She was an attorney who was working in New York City before she devoted herself full time to the woman suffrage campaigns, including Oregon’s. She had no medical training to merit a spot on the doctor train, but I think she finagled a ride so she could make sure her girlfriend, Dr. Mary Sperry, was ok. (She was).
I accompanied Dr. Laughlin to the Ferry Building depot when she arranged to leave the city early. We walked from the Presidio grounds and listened to the military band. The sky was dark with no city glow since gaslights were banned. We weren’t able to tread on the sidewalks because they were too hot from the fire. It seemed like we were walking among the ruins of some ancient city that had been dead for hundreds of years.
I was impressed with the orderliness in the city with people being so generous and helpful to one another. I think you’re all experiencing some of that goodness in people now during your current crisis. I knew for sure that San Francisco would recover once I witnessed the resilience, determination, and concern for one another. Thankfully, my former lover Bessie Holcomb and her husband and child survived the quake with their Divisadero Street home intact.
As I prepared to leave, I was happy to receive effusive praise from California Governor George C. Pardee, San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz, and the commanding officer at the Presidio General Hospital. I was even awarded a medal for my service.
I’ve got many more stories from that trip. I wish I had kept a journal then so they’d be more available. I imagine many of you are doing so now. How you endured the anxious and horrific days of your pandemic will be a valuable testament in the future.
Author’s note: based on excerpts from “Marie Equi, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions,” Michael Helquist, 2015, Oregon State University Press. Available at bookstores and online outlets. Kindle version available through Amazon.
Virtual AIDS 2020 Conference Adds Focus on COVID-19; HIV 2020 Alternative Conference in Mexico City Cancelled due to Coronavirus
The 23rd International Conference on AIDS will broaden its focus to include the current global pandemic of COVID-19 corona virus. The conference was scheduled to convene in San Francisco and Oakland, July 6-10. More than 25,000 researchers, clinicians, and activists are expected to participate.
The International AIDS Society, the organizer of the bi-annual AIDS conference, found itself in the unique position of convening AIDS 2020 during the rapidly developing new pandemic of COVID-19. In the midst of travel restrictions and shelter-in-place mandates in many countries as well as a desire to protect HIV participants from exposure to the new virus, the IAS had already switched for the first time to a virtual format for its proceedings this summer.
Historically, a different city in the world hosts the bi-annual conference, the largest HIV/AIDS gathering in the world. San Francisco previously hosted the AIDS conference in 1990. That occasion made history when AIDS activists, led primarily by ACT UP San Francisco, disrupted a major address by Health and Human Services director Louis Sullivan. Shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” the protesters made it impossible for Sullivan to be heard. The incident reflected the enormous anger and desperation of People with AIDS at the federal government’s slow and disorganized pursuit of HIV treatments and cure.
This summer AIDS 2020 returns to the Bay Area for the first time in 30 years. Organizers stated that the virtual conference will retain its focus on San Francisco and Oakland and their respective responses to HIV/AIDS. San Francisco is known for its “model of care” and for its researchers, including Jay Levy, MD who became the first American to independently identify the AIDS virus.
The protests that marked the 1990 conference have been repeated to varying degrees in the following AIDS international conferences. Activists and many community-based AIDS workers objected that the United States, especially San Francisco/Oakland, were inappropriate sites given the Trump era discrimination of immigrants from third world countries and those from marginalized groups. When the IAS refused a change of venue, the activists organized an alternative conference, HIV 2020: Community Reclaiming the Global Response scheduled to take place in Mexico City July 5-7. However, COVID-19 overturned these plans as well. The Mexican government has suspended all large events in the country due to COVID-19 concerns through August, and HIV 2020 has been cancelled. Other options are being explored.
This COVID-19 outbreak reminds me of the two other pandemics in the last 100 years. I lived through the horrors of the long AIDS years, and I researched the global scourge of the 1918-1919 flu for my biography of Marie Equi. This excerpt from the book shows how the first pandemic entwined the threat of illness and death with a struggle for justice and freedom.
Set-up: Marie Equi is an early woman physician and publicly known lesbian who lived and worked in Portland, Oregon. She became a political radical after being abused by the police during a labor strike. For speaking out against the U.S. joining World War I, Equi was charged with sedition. Her trial was set during the equivalent of “sheltering-in-place.”
Excerpt from: “Marie Equi, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions”
Equi tried to delay the start of her trial as long as possible. Like other
radicals, she anticipated trumped-up charges, biased juries, and fraudulent
court testimony. As a result, she adopted the wisdom of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,
“a prominent radical known to many as “The Rebel Girl.” Flynn explained,
“Time was our greatest asset.” For radicals, she believed, “A trial was
tantamount to a lynching.”
Equi intended to feign illness to postpone the start of her trial, scheduled
for November 6, 1918. She hoped a jury might be more sympathetic once the
war had ended. At first she considered having her appendix removed and then
requesting two weeks or more for recovery. Then she planned to ingest a noxious
thyroid compound along with a morphine solution to induce fever and
nausea. She settled on something less dire: rubbing an ointment in her nose
that would trigger influenza-like symptoms. Equi figured her deception
might merit empathy or even exploit fears of the influenza pandemic plaguing
They had neither treatment or vaccine to offer
The first wave of the so-called Spanish influenza struck the East Coast
and the Midwest in the spring of 1918. No one paid much attention to the
peculiar flu that came on quickly and initially struck soldiers and sailors, and
after a few weeks the number of cases dropped and the danger seemed to have
passed. In the fall, however, a second, more virulent wave slammed the general
population, especially young adults of all classes. The rapid onset of symptoms
often meant a patient complained of fever, headache, and backache one day
and then struggled to breathe the next before suffocating to death. Not until
the onset of AIDS sixty-five years later would the nation exhibit so much
panic and fear of a mysterious, deadly disease. Physicians struggled with an
enormous demand for diagnosis and care although they had neither treatment
nor vaccine to offer. During the course of the pandemic, nearly 30 percent of
Americans became infected, and 675,000 died. Half of the fatalities among
American soldiers in Europe were due to the epidemic. The psychological
impact of this toll must have staggered the population.
Portland’s first case of the new flu was believed to be a young soldier,
diagnosed in early October 1918. The state’s board of health quickly ordered
all places of public gatherings closed: schools, theaters, churches, libraries,
and assembly halls. No meetings were allowed, and people were advised to
avoid crowded streetcars and wear gauze masks at all times. The number of
cases soared so high that the public auditorium and several schools were
converted into emergency hospitals. Portland registered 157 deaths the first
week of November when Equi’s trial was set to begin, but the federal court
system disregarded the risks of transmission and announced plans to begin the
fall session as scheduled. Equi put her ruse into effect and induced symptoms
the night before her court appearance. That same evening she learned that an
acquaintance of hers, a young Wobbly named Morgan, really was ill with the
flu and had been taken to the emergency hospital.
Equi Feigns Illness
Equi’s trial began on Wednesday, November 6, 1918, in Portland’s
federal courthouse at Sixth and Morrison Streets with Judge Robert S. Bean
presiding. Bean was a dignified and distinguished judge who had previously
served as Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court before assuming a position
as a US District Judge in Portland. As planned, Equi’s attorney Heckbert
informed Bean that she was ill with influenza and needed rest. Madge Paul, an
undercover informant, had already informed US Attorney Haney of Equi’s
deception, and he requested that a court physician examine her and advise
the court of her condition. The doctor determined Equi required, at most,
forty-eight hours of rest. Judge Bean ordered Equi to appear in court on Friday,
November 8 or forfeit her $10,000 bail. During the same court proceedings,
Haney revealed that he had received regular reports of Equi’s activities and he
knew of her ploy to delay her appearance. Equi was furious that her plan had
been exposed. At first she blamed one of her attorneys of double-crossing her;
then she suspected Madge Paul, the informant who had befriended her.
A reflection of the intensity of the times came with a telephone call that
evening from a nurse at the influenza ward who informed Equi that her friend
Morgan was dying and begging to see her. When one of her friends advised her to
delay her visit, Equi exploded and yelled, “That dying boy is alone and wants
me, and I’d go through hell to help one of my boys.” She grabbed a bunch of
red carnations from a vase, rushed to the patient’s bedside, and stayed with him
through the night until he died. She was distraught for days afterwards—angry
with herself for not providing more care and furious with the government for
keeping her from her patients.
On November 7, George Vanderveer arrived in Portland, ready to serve
as Equi’s lead counsel the next day, but all plans were tossed aside once the
dailies broke the news the war-weary public longed for: the war had ended.
Portlanders erupted in deliriously happy, raucous celebrations. Longshoreman
left the docks and marched downtown, whistling, shouting, and ignoring
attempts by the police to maintain order. Office workers several stories above
rained paper scraps on a street parade below. Everyone ignored flu precautions
and littered the streets with face masks. Oregon had sent thirty-five thousand men
to the war, a full 14 percent of the state’s adult population, and everyone wanted to
banish the dread scourge from their lives.
Equi took comfort in delaying her trial until after the war had ended. Several
hours later, however, all celebrations stopped. People on the streets were stunned into
silence when they learned there was no peace, not yet. An overeager wire correspondent
on the front lines in France had filed a premature report, and Germany had yet to surrender.
The next morning, Equi’s trial resumed.
Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions, Michael Helquist, Oregon State University Press, 2015. Available in print at bookstores and in Kindle at Amazon.
Note: the courage and example of Marie Equi is now memorialized as part of the Rainbow Honor Walk in San Francisco and in Portland’s Walk of the Heroines.
Get your own Marie Equi t-shirt to honor the fiercely independent lesbian doctor who fought for equal rights and battled for economic and social justice.
I’ve created a Marie Equi Tshirt Shop at CafePress, an online product store. It’s simple:
Go to https://www.cafepress.com/MarieEquiTshirtShop
Place your order (there are “female” and “male” sizes)
Then proceed to check out and select among the payment options. You can also order by phone. You should receive your t-shirt in about two weeks.
Note: the back side of the t-shirt reads:
Radical Politics & Outlaw Passions
Celebrate Marie! Take a selfie and show us on Facebook or send your pic to me at this site.
A new-to-me find today: The American Bookbinders Museum in SoMa (35 Clementina St, San Francisco). Engaging and interesting for its bookbinding machines of all sorts, displays of book art and covers, and its lecture series. Well worth a visit and a look also at the special exhibit about LGBTQ+ publications of the first decades of the 20th century.
Today's event featured long-time gay journalist Randy Alfred who talked about the city's LGBTQ+ Journalism in the early days of AIDS/HIV. During this period he worked in print (as editor of The Sentinel newspaper) as well as the host of a popular radio program where he interviewed pioneers in AIDS research and clinical care.
These were the years (1980s) when the "Bay Area Reporter" newspaper's readership was primarily gay men (as intended), when the bi-weekly "The Sentinel" newspaper slipped from offering breaking news about AIDS policy, and when the monthly publication "Coming UP!" (today's Bay Times) emphasized diversity and inclusiveness of matters of importance to women as well as to men, provided in-depth analysis, and presented extensive coverage of the political, medical, social behavioral aspects of AIDS in San Francisco. (disclosure: I wrote for "Coming Up!" from 1982-1985)..
Alfred offered his reflections on both the commendable AIDS coverage as well as the Initial unconscionable lack of reports about the AIDS/HIV epidemic in different publications. Thanks to Randy Alfred and to the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco for co-sponsoring of the lecture as part of the Queer Voices lecture series presented by the American Bookbinders Museum.
#lgbthistory #museum #HIV/AIDS #bkbindersmuseum
Just in time for Pride Month, lesbian activist Marie Equi (1872-1952) is being honored by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Oregon State Secretary of State for her courage and commitment to economic and social justice.
The New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, part of NPS, triggered the attention to Equi with an exhibit featuring her contributions during the 2018 Pride Month. The profile of Equi highlights her early life, her role as an early woman physician in the West, her controversial fights for women’s and labor’s rights, her romantic and intimate relations with women, and her adopting a child. Equi’s inclusion in the story of the United States by the National Park Service is significant for spotlighting, for the first time, a lesbian doctor and political radical. Read her NPS profile here.
On the West Coast, the office of the Oregon Secretary of State has included Marie Equi among the “Notable Oregonians” featured on its website. Equi is recognized for woman suffrage work, her fight for labor justice, and her opposition to World War I. The site also notes that Equi was the first publicly known lesbian in Oregon.* Equi first settled in the state in 1892 when she joined her girlfriend on a homestead outside The Dalles, Oregon along the Columbia River. After a relocation to San Francisco, Equi returned to Oregon to receive her medical degree and to practice in Pendleton, Oregon and then in Portland. She lived the rest of her adult life in the state. Equi was beloved by many for her commitment to justice and her fierce defense of the underdog.
Hold on, Mary Ann Singleton, you’re not the first to seek refuge on Barbary Lane. Before you escaped Cleveland for the enchantment, intrigue, and sexual freedom of 1970s San Francisco, lesbian agitator Marie Equi camped out there in 1921, direct from doing time at San Quentin Prison. The difference, of course, Mary Ann, is that your muddled, earnest striving fits neatly into the raucous print and film series “Tales of the City,” created by novelist and screenwriter Armistead Maupin. He placed you and the other fictional denizens in a mansion-like set of apartments along the legendary Barbary Lane.
Marie Equi’s journey to “Barbary Lane,” however, was all too fraught with real danger, conflict and suffering. She struggled with being an outsider most of her life. She was the daughter of immigrant parents; her father was Italian, her mother, Irish. The family was snubbed for not being enough of either community. Equi’s family was working-class, and she had to drop out of high school to help support her six siblings. She worked in the gritty textile mills until she could take it no longer. Her plight was even more precarious since she was uninterested in marriage as a means of financial support; besides she was attracted to women. It was a time, in the 1880s and 1890s, when the word “lesbian” was neither known nor used.
Equi fled to Oregon to live along the Columbia River on a homestead with her girlfriend. She studied medicine on her own, and then bucked the trend to enter medical school when few women did. She graduated in Portland in 1903, and she became known as a passionate advocate for social and economic justice. That’s how Equi got in trouble. She fought for woman suffrage, she distributed birth control information when it was illegal, and she provided outlawed abortions. She marched with jobless workers, picketed at labor strikes, and fought with police. When the U.S. joined World War I, Equi objected to its exploitative, capitalist motives. For speaking out against the war, the federal government charged Equi with sedition. She was convicted and then sentenced to three years in prison at San Quentin, starting October 19, 1920.
Ten months later at San Quentin, “Equi collected her possessions changed into the new clothes and hat provided by the state, and said goodbye to her cellmate “KT” and the other women. …The other inmates cheered her release, and she vowed not to forget them. She completed the required paperwork, took the five dollars cash allotted each discharged prisoner, and walked with guards through the gates. There one of her cousins waited to take her to the ferry and leave San Quentin behind.”
From the San Francisco dock, Equi was driven to her refuge on Macondray Lane, not the fictitious Barbary Lane where transgender landlady Anna Madrigal tended to her family of seekers and supposed misfits featured in “Tales of the City.” (The actual pathway was named in 1912 to honor the pioneer San Francisco merchant Frederick W. Macondray). Instead of Anna Madrigal, Charlotte Anita Whitney welcomed Marie Equi into her mid-block one-bedroom apartment.
Whitney was from an aristocratic family in Oakland, across San Francisco Bay. Like Equi, she was unmarried and had worked as a suffragist before becoming a political radical convinced that fundamental economic and social change was needed in the country. Whitney and Equi had known each other for nearly ten years. They were confidants, perhaps lovers, and they supported each other in the ways independent women must. Two months before Equi’s release, Whitney had taken an apartment on the wooded, well-tended walkway lined by a serpentine rock outcropping on the south side and houses and apartments on the north – all situated high on San Francisco’s eclectic Russian Hill.
From the windows of Whitney’s home, Equi could scan the Marin County headlands across the bay. San Quentin Prison, mercifully, did not mar the view. After months in close concrete quarters, she was just a few steps away from the flowers, shrubs, and trees of the hideaway lane. No longer confined with strangers, she spent her days and nights with an intimate companion of her own choosing, and she tried to make sense of her prison ordeal and what lay ahead.
Macondray Lane for Marie Equi, and Barbary Lane for Mary Ann Singleton. One real walkway and one imagined path. Both held the promise of what so many of us seek then and now -- a safe home and companions of our own choosing.
If you’re new to “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin, treat yourself to a romp through San Francisco by reading all eight books in the series. Don’t miss the excellent and most recent web miniseries of the same name that premiered on Netflix June 7, 2019.
For the life of the fiercely independent Marie Equi, see “Marie Equi, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions,” 2015, Oregon State University Press, Michael Helquist. A Stonewall Honor Book. Available at independent bookstores and online. At Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Marie-Equi-Radical-Politics-Passions/dp/087071595X
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