In 1893, she moved to The Dalles, Oregon with her friend Bess Holcomb, who had been offered work as a teacher. The two lived together quietly in what has been called a "Boston marriage". On July 21, 1893, Equi was the subject of an article in The Dalles Times-Mountaineer, the local newspaper. According to the article, which referred to Equi as "Miss Aqua", Holcomb's employer, Reverend Orson D. Taylor, refused to pay Holcomb a promised $100, and in response Equi threatened to publicly horsewhip him. Although Equi was able to carry out her threat, Holcomb ultimately did not receive the $100. However, the community was supportive of Equi's actions. The whip became the subject of a raffle, and the proceeds, exceeding $100, were granted to the two women.
A few years later, the pair moved to San Francisco, California, where Equi began studying medicine. She completed her degree in 1903 at the University of Oregon in Portland, Oregon, one of the first classes to admit women. In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, she organized a group of doctors and nurses to provide humanitarian aid in the wake of the disaster, earning her a special commendation from the United States Army. Soon after, she met Harriet Speckart, who worked as her assistant. The two began a relationship, sharing residence in various locations in Portland. Speckart, the niece of Olympia Brewing Company founder Leo Schmidt, did not abandon the relationship despite various attempts by her family, including the threat to revoke her inheritance. (Picture: Harriet Speckart)
Dr. Marie Equi was a medical doctor and anarchist. In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, she organized a group of doctors and nurses to provide humanitarian aid in the wake of the disaster, earning her a special commendation from the United States Army. Soon after, she met Harriet Speckart, who worked as her assistant. In 1915, Equi adopted an infant girl, Mary, because Speckart wanted to raise a child. Mary referred to Speckart as her "ma" and Equi as her "da".
Equi was one of several doctors in Portland who performed abortions, and did so without regard for social class or status. She was active in the movement to provide access and information about birth control. She also knew Margaret Sanger, and may have had a relationship with her—archivist Judith Schwartz described Equi's letters to Sanger as "love letters". Equi was active in the women's suffrage movement in Oregon, which achieved success in 1912 when the state granted women the right to vote. (Picture: Margaret Sanger)
In 1913, she visited the site of a strike by women cherry sorters at the Oregon Packing Company, during a strike action supported by the Industrial Workers of the World among others. While attending to an injured worker, she was attacked by the police, whose brutality in attempting to end the strike led Equi to denounce capitalism and become an anarchist.
In 1915, Equi adopted an infant girl, Mary, because Speckart wanted to raise a child. Mary later came to prominence herself, when at age 16 she became the youngest woman in the Pacific Northwest to fly an airplane solo. Mary referred to Speckart as her "ma" and Equi as her "da".
In 1916, Equi joined the American Union Against Militarism. During a war-preparedness rally in downtown Portland, she unfurled a banner reading "PREPARE TO DIE, WORKINGMEN, J.P. MORGAN & CO. WANT PREPAREDNESS FOR PROFIT", which set off a minor riot and led to her arrest. On December 31, 1918, she was convicted of sedition under the newly-revised Espionage Act for a speech made at the IWW hall opposing World War I. Her lawyers were unsuccessful in their attempts to overturn her conviction, and her daughter later recalled how she and her mother were spat upon in the streets during this period. For this reason, Speckart took Mary to Seaside, Oregon. Equi and Speckart never lived together again. In October 1920 Equi began her 3-year sentence at San Quentin State Prison, which was later reduced to a year and a half. In prison, she wrote letters to friends, one of which expressed anxiety and doubt about her "queerness," to which her friend reassured her. Although Equi's friends supported her they were unable to secure her pardon.
Some time after her release, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to live with Equi, and the two women lived together for ten years. Harriet Speckart lived in Seaside, Oregon, until her death from a brain tumor at the age of 44 on May 15, 1927, after which Mary came to live with her "da" in Portland. On July 13, 1952, aged 80, Equi died in Portland at Fairlawn Hospital. (Picture: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn)
Many politically active women began to understand that the people most vulnerable to social and physical abuse were ultimately hurt by benevolent protectionism, which at its worst eagerly fed Red Scare paranoia. These social justice activists argued that what America’s disenfranchised needed was the economic security and independence to protect themselves and the political skills and social tools to maintain this independence. Many of these women were emotionally involved with other women and worked on projects that affected the everyday lives of women in the workplace and in the home. Their political identifications were often radical, and in their lives and work are the origins of what we now think of as the lesbian feminist social justice movement. These women came from a variety of backgrounds and approached their work, and lives, though a variety of political approaches. Marie Equi was born to Irish and Italian immigrant parents in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1872. At the age of twenty-one she moved to Portland, Oregon, with her partner, Bess Holcomb, who had a job offer there. Several years later they moved to San Francisco, where Equi studied medicine. Her disaster relief work after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake earned her a commendation from the United States Army. In Portland, she performed abortions and worked with Margaret Sanger, with whom she may have had a sexual relationship. A member of the Wobblies, Equi was known for her suffrage and labor organizing. She later became an anarchist. In 1915, with her partner Harriet Speckart, she adopted a child named Mary, who referred to her mothers as “ma” and “da.” In 1920, convicted under the Sedition Act, Equi began serving a three-year sentence in San Quentin State Prison. Her crime was protesting against the United States’ entry into World War I; during a rally in Portland supporting preparedness for war, she had unfurled a banner that read “PREPARE TO DIE, WORKINGMEN, J. P. MORGAN & CO. WANT PREPAREDNESS FOR PROFIT.” Equi’s openly lesbian life contrasts with the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a noted socialist and Wobblie member who was to become her partner in 1928. Flynn was born in 1890 to working-class parents who identified themselves as socialist and were deeply connected to the Irish independence movement. At an early age, Flynn began seriously study socialism. By age sixteen she was an acclaimed pubic speaker on political issues. After meeting Emma Goldman, Flynn flirted with anarchism, but eventually joined the Wobblies. Flynn’s work as a labor organizer often focused on the problems of women workers. In 1912 she helped run the highly successful factory strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in which ten thousand women won safer working conditions and higher wages after a three-month walkout. Flynn, with the help of Margaret Sanger, made temporary foster care arrangements in New York for the children of the striking workers. When police prevented the children from boarding the train in Lawrence, Flynn alerted the press; after national headlines, Congress threatened to investigate. Flynn was also active in the birth control movement, and she was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. Although Flynn was married for twelve years to a fellow organizer, and later seriously involved with anarchist Carlo Tresca, she lived from 1928 to 1936 in a relationship with Marie Equi, who had nursed her through a serious heart condition. After they separated, Flynn joined the Communist Party, which did its best to cover up her relationship with Equi. Flynn continued to work with the Communist Party and focused a great deal on the lives of women. In 1945 she was a delegate to the Women’s Congress in Paris, which led to the formation of the Women’s International Democratic Federation and the U.S.-based Congress for American Women. --Bronski, Michael (2011-05-10). A Queer History of the United States (Revisioning American History) (Kindle Locations 3118-3148). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (August 7, 1890 – September 5, 1964) was a labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Flynn was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women's rights, birth control, and women's suffrage. She joined the American Communist Party in 1936 and late in life, in 1961, became its chairwoman. She died during a visit to the Soviet Union, where she was accorded a state funeral.
Gurley was born in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1890. The family moved to New York in 1900, and Flynn was educated at the local public schools. Her parents introduced her to socialism. When she was only sixteen she gave her first speech, "What Socialism Will Do for Women", at the Harlem Socialist Club. As a result of her political activities, Flynn was expelled from high school.
In 1907, Flynn became a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, and attended her first IWW convention in September of that year. Over the next few years she organized campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington; and textile workers in Massachusetts. During this period, author Theodore Dreiser described her as "an East Side Joan of Arc".
During a war-preparedness rally in downtown Portland, Marie Equi was arrested. On December 31, 1918, she was convicted of sedition under the newly-revised Espionage Act. Equi and Speckart never lived together again. Some time after her release, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to live with Equi, and the two women lived together for 10 years. Harriet Speckart lived in Seaside, until her death in 1927, after which Mary came to live with her "da". On July 13, 1952, aged 80, Equi died in Portland.
In 1909, Flynn participated in a free speech fight in Spokane, in which she chained herself to a lamp-post in order to delay her arrest. She later accused the police of using the jail as a brothel, an accusation that prompted them to try to confiscate all copies of the Industrial Worker reporting the charge.
Flynn was arrested ten times during this period, but was never convicted of any criminal activity. It was a plea bargain, on the other hand, that resulted in Flynn's expulsion from the IWW in 1916, along with fellow organizer Joe Ettor. According to historian Robert M Eleff, three Minnesota miners had been arrested on murder charges arising from an incident which arose when a group of deputised mine guards, including an alleged gunman by the name of James C Myron and a former bouncer named Nick Dillon, came to the residence of one of the miners, Philip Masonovitch, to investigate allegations of the use of an illegal liquor still on the premises. A confrontation ensued in which Myron and a bystander were shot dead. According to Eleff, some witness testimony seemed to indicate that Myron could have been killed accidentally by one of his colleagues, who fired into the Masonovitch residence from outside, and that the bystander was killed by Dillon. Three IWW organizers were also charged, although all three were elsewhere at the time. Head of the IWW's organizing committee, Bill Haywood seemed confident that Judge Hilton, who had successfully defended George Pettibone when he and Haywood were on trial in Idaho, could win the case for the miners.
However, the main organizers on the scene accepted an arrangement by which the other organizers were allowed to go free, but the three miners, none of whom spoke English fluently, faced time in prison. There was also a mixup in the sentencing; a prior agreement for one year in prison was somehow changed in the courtroom to a sentence of five to 20 years. Haywood held Flynn and Ettor responsible for allowing the miners to plead guilty to charges that they probably did not understand. Haywood wrote in his autobiography that Flynn and Ettor's "part in the affair terminated their connection with the IWW." Haywood's biographer, Peter Carlson, wrote that Ettor left the IWW and that Flynn "remained in the union, but took pains to avoid Haywood and his supporters."
A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920, Flynn was active in the campaign against the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti. Flynn was particularly concerned with women's rights, supporting birth control and women's suffrage. Flynn also criticized the leadership of trade unions for being male-dominated and not reflecting the needs of women.
Between 1926 and 1936, Flynn lived in southwest Portland, Oregon with birth control activist and Marie Equi. Though Flynn was in poor health most of her time in Portland, she was an active and vocal supporter of the 1934 West Coast Longshore Strike. In 1936, Flynn joined the Communist Party and wrote a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she was elected to the national committee. Her membership in the Party led to her ouster from the board of the ACLU in 1940.
During World War II, she played an important role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women and the establishment of day care centres for working mothers. In 1942, she ran for Congress at-large in New York and received 50,000 votes. In July 1948, a dozen leaders of the Communist Party were arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the US government by force and violence. After they were convicted in the Foley Square trial they appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld their conviction in Dennis v. United States; two justices wrote in dissent that they were convicted in violation of their Constitutional rights for engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.
Flynn launched a campaign for their release but, in June 1951, was herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act. After a nine-month trial, she was found guilty and served two years in Federal Prison Camp, Alderson near Alderson, West Virginia. She later wrote an prison memoir in The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.
After her release from prison, Flynn resumed her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She became national chairperson of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961. She made several visits to the Soviet Union and died while there on September 5, 1964, 74 years old. The Soviet government gave her a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending. In accordance with her wishes, Flynn's remains were flown to the United States for burial in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.
Flynn's influence as an activist was far-reaching, and her exploits were commemorated in a popular ballad. A popular song, "The Rebel Girl", was written by labor activist and musician Joe Hill in honor of Flynn.
A fictionalized version of Flynn is depicted in John Updike's novel In the Beauty of the Lilies in which she is said to have had an affair with the anarchist Carlo Tresca, which is supported by Flynn's letters and memoir.
Burial: Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Cook County, Illinois, USA.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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