Hodges explains that much of Equi’s personal papers and medical records have been lost, creating a challenge to biographers. He salutes author Michael Helquist’s “extraordinary feat of detective work” tracking primary sources from across the nation. The work led to a book-length biography of “one of the most fascinating characters ever to make Portland home.”
Equi has been known primarily for her political radicalism, fighting for labor rights and free speech on the streets of Portland, Oregon in the early decades of the 20th century. But, as Hodges writes, this new biography “may have redefined our basic understanding of her as well.” Practicing medicine was essential to Equi’s life. She treated working-class patients, and she ignored the law to provide birth control information and to perform abortions when both were illegal. “The centrality of her medical work emerges more clearly than ever before as a result.’
Equi became the West Coast’s first publicly known lesbian as a result of living openly with women as early as the 1890s. Her biography examines Equi’s romantic and political relationships with women, and Hodges concludes that the study reveals “how these connections enabled and sustained an unconventional life.”
The Oregon Historical Quarterly is available by subscription and at JSTOR, accessible through many public and school libraries.
Oregon State University Press published Marie Equi in September 2015. The book is available from the Press (800-621-2736, osupress.oregonstate.edu), at bookstores everywhere, and online.