In 2006 the pre-eminent historian and author Lillian Faderman caught me unprepared to answer her perfectly reasonable question – “Why are you writing about her?” – after I mentioned my planned biography of Marie Equi.
Faderman had stopped in San Francisco at the Booksmith bookstore on Haight Street to discuss Gay L.A., A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, the just-released volume she wrote with Stuart Timmons. The store was packed with her fans, and I was eager to listen to someone whose work I had admired for years.
Several of Faderman’s books had greatly informed my understanding of lesbian lives in American history, especially To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America and Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in 20th Century America. Thanks to her research and writing, I was better able to place Marie Equi’s lesbian relationships in a more nuanced political and cultural context and to appreciate her boldness in early 20th century Portland.
Since Faderman’s question several years ago, I worked to better integrate Equi’s outsized personality and controversial protests with her commitment to economic and social justice. Equi engaged the most important issues of her day, and her efforts contribute to our understanding of LGBT history, radical labor politics, the role of women in medicine, reproductive rights, free speech, and peace.
Equi was neither a strident advocate nor a rigid ideologue. Instead her politics were personal, fluid, and eclectic. She operated with a strong sense of right and wrong, aligning herself with groups and causes when they matched her beliefs and objectives. She withstood public opprobrium for her principled stands, and she lost her personal freedom for insisting on her rights as a citizen.
Equi defined herself as a doctor most of all, and that identity lends her greater distinction among her colleagues and other activists. She never let her professional status keep her from protesting in the streets or skirting the law to help her patients.
How Equi fought for justice makes her life story compelling to general readers and scholars interested in the issues of her day and to anyone committed to similar challenges today. That’s why I wrote her biography.
Author Historian Activist