Ninety-five years ago on October 19, 1920 lesbian radical Marie Equi began her sentence at San Quentin California State Prison in Marin County. Five days earlier she had walked with her estranged longtime lover, her five-year-old daughter, and two dozen friends to the US Marshall’s office in downtown Portland, Oregon. She was there to surrender and be escorted to jail prior to her trip south.
Only that morning in Portland had Equi learned that she would do time at San Quentin. The choice suited her, she said, much more than the women’s reformatory in Rockville, Iowa. “I am too old to reform,” she quipped. To a local newspaper she said of her daughter Mary: “I’ve had that little girl since she was three weeks old. She is as dear to me as if she were my own child.” She also spoke of being humbled at “the wealth of friendship” she received that morning.
She departed Portland on Southern Pacific No. 10 just before midnight on October 17 with a US deputy marshal and a police matron. The next day she and the others reached Richmond, California, boarded a ferry to San Quentin, and approached the stark white prison buildings standing isolated on a short stub of a peninsula in San Francisco Bay. At the prison she was registered as inmate 34110, marking the start of her term. Among the thirty-one other inmates, Equi was the only political. Her offense? Speaking out against US participation in World War I. The charge: Sedition.
Excerpted from MARIE EQUI: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions
Author Historian Activist