Author: Tran Luu
Born in 1872 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Marie Equi was one of many children of John Aque and Sarah Mullins Aque. While growing up, Marie was exposed to stories of suffering from the working class, many of whom went on strike due to the harsh working conditions at their workplaces and whom her father occasionally fed. She also survived tuberculosis, a dangerous illness for children during her time, and when she personally witnessed at least three of her siblings die from the disease, she realized that she wanted to help people when she could.
In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco fire and earthquake, Marie Equi volunteered to help the wounded and was later decorated for her humanitarian efforts by the U.S. Army. She was also a big supporter of the now infamous Margaret Sanger, a suffragette with a huge focus on women’s rights to their own bodies and a staunch believer in abortion. Because of her friendship with Sanger and also her own beliefs, Marie Equi contributed to Sanger’s Family Limitations booklet, which detailed birth control and family planning for the working class, and she also grew her own practice to focus on that of women’s and children’s health, as well as providing abortion services even for those who cannot afford the money to go through the procedure.
While working as a doctor, Marie Equi became a huge part in the suffragette movement of the early 1900’s. She was one of the earliest Oregon women that registered to vote and for jury duty, and while protesting at the War Preparedness parade on June 30, 1919, she was arrested and charged with sedition under the Espionage Act. However, there was controversy regarding this arrest as Equi sought out President Wilson and pleaded her case, saying that the main reason why she was arrested was due to her sexual orientation and not any actions of her own. This is because Marie Equi was a radical political activist who was openly lesbian, and she had been living with heiress Harriet Speckart, with whom she shared an adopted daughter named Mary Jr., for more than 10 years prior to her incarceration. Furthermore, after her split from Speckart, she became involved in a romantic relationship with journalist Katherine “Kitty” O’Brennan, whose friend, Margaret Lowell Paul, as revealed to be an undercover federal agent that had been wiretapping their home and recording their homosexual activities. Marie Equi’s efforts led to President Wilson reducing her sentence to a year and a day from the declared three years, and she got out after only ten months due to her good behaviors.
In the end, while Marie Equi was a doctor in her own rights, she was also a mother, an activist, and a believer in women’s reproductive rights. She was ahead of her time, more so than even some of the most popular politicians today, and she stood for what she thought was right without backing down. She never lived her life in fear, and she openly declared to the world her views and flaunted her relationships in a time where most lesbians live in fear of repercussions.
● Marie Equi and Margaret Sanger became friends when they were arrested together for defending men who were helping to distribute Sanger’s birth control pamphlets
● She publicly threatened a man with a bullwhip for trying to cheat her partner out of money he borrowed
● Her and Speckart’s daughter, Mary Jr., became Oregon’s youngest female pilot