What would Marie Equi do? Would she be getting ready to celebrate in 2020 the centennial of women finally getting the vote? In states across the U.S. women today are planning to honor the thousands of suffragists who persisted and finally won suffrage in 1920. Yet Marie Equi, a longtime suffragist and political agitator, was in a far different situation from her feminist colleagues when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. She was a few months from doing time in San Quentin prison after being convicted for sedition. Specifically, her offense was publicly voicing her opposition to the war. She exercised what she thought was her right to free speech and gave talks describing the war as a capitalist, imperialist venture in which working-class people would suffer the most.
Earlier this year I was invited to imagine how Marie Equi might have reacted to the news of women getting the vote in 1920. Desiree Root, a senior Gender Studies student and assistant in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Honors Colloquium at Western Oregon University, conducted the discussion. It was published with other interviews as part of the Oregon Women’s History Consortium, a statewide organization that supports research and education about the history of women in Oregon. You can read my interview here.
Intrigued with this fiercely independent woman, physician, agitator, and one of the first publicly known lesbians on the West Coast? Check my website michaelhelquist.com and look for my biography “Marie Equi: Radical Politics & Outlaw Passions,” Oregon State University Press, at bookstores and online retail sites.
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.
For more about Marie Equi, see the website marieequi.com and check out my biography “Marie Equi: Radical Politics & Outlaw Passions,” at Amazon and other online book outlets and local bookstores.
Author Historian Activist