Originally from Massachusetts, Dr. Marie Equi was born in an Italian and Irish home. She spent much of her youth in Italy. At age 21, she moved with her “Boston Marriage” wife, Bess Holcomb, to The Dalles, Oregon, in 1893.
Bess had been offered work there as a teacher. According to subsequent newspaper reports, Holcomb’s employer, Rev. Orson D. Taylor, refused to pay the promised salary of $ 100. In a heated and boisterous confrontation, Marie threatened to publicly beat him with a horse whip.
And she executed her threat! Unfortunately, Bess did not receive the promised $ 100, but the community was very supportive of this action and the whip was therefore drawn. Marie and Bess received the proceeds, which exceeded $ 100.
The couple moved to San Francisco, but Marie moved to Portland, Oregon, where she obtained her medical degree, then established her practice in 1903. She became one of the few doctors to openly perform abortions, and she did it for women. of any class, race or ethnicity, including non-English speaking immigrants.
In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Marie organized a group of Portland doctors and nurses to provide humanitarian aid to the devastated city, an action that earned her special praise from the U.S. military. .
Soon after, she met Harriet Speckart, who started working as Marie’s assistant. The two began a 20-year relationship, sharing residences in San Francisco and various locations in Portland. Harriet was an heiress of Olympia Brewing Company. Her family threatened to disinherit her if she did not leave Marie. Harriet refused to abandon her lover. The two eventually adopted a daughter and raised her together.
In 1913, Marie joined a strike organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), to support women workers struggling against dire conditions at the Oregon Packing Company. The police violently assaulted her while she was dealing with an attacker whom they had beaten to the ground. The systematic brutality employed to end the strike was a last drop, leading Marie to denounce capitalism, become anarchist and join the IWW.
A strong advocate for women in control of their own bodies, she helped Margaret Sanger write pamphlets promoting birth control, and the two women have become long-time friends. In 1916, they were arrested together while promoting a national campaign to advance the use of contraceptive devices.
As the specter of the United States entering the war in Europe looms, Marie joins the American Union Against Militarism. During an anti-war protest in downtown Portland in 1916, she unfurled a banner that read:
“PREPARE TO DIE, WORKMEN, JP MORGAN & CO.
WANT TO BE PREPARED FOR PROFIT. “
The riot that followed, although minor, led to his arrest. In December 1918, she was tried under the new Espionage Act for her opposition to the war. “Red summer” was only a few months away. During this terrible time, racial conflict and “red” hysteria overflowed and then reigned unchecked throughout much of the United States. The government has swept tens of thousands, jailed many, and deported thousands of “anti-Americans.”
During the shameless trial, Justice Department Special Agent William Byron testified. He gave detailed reports gathered by relentlessly tracking and investigating her. At the helm, he denounced her as “an anarchist, a degenerate and an abortionist”. She was unsurprisingly convicted of sedition.
His lawyers failed to overturn the conviction. In October 1920, she began her three-year sentence in San Quentin Prison (later reduced to one and a half years). By all reports, she was an extremely difficult and uncooperative prisoner. During her incarceration, she tried to improve the horrible conditions of the women there. At Christmas, she begged friends to send gifts for some 20 women whose life of misery particularly touched her.
In 1921, then Deputy Director of the Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover accused Mary of being “associated with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Anita Whitney and Emma Goldman … and was a professional abortionist”.
From 1928 to 1936, the famous IWW agitator and Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn lived with Mary. A few years earlier, Marie had treated Flynn for a heart attack while the gunman was on a West Coast speaking tour on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti.
As she grew older, Marie appeared less in the public eye. But a childhood friend of her grandson visited Mary’s house several times during her old age. He described Mary decades later as a “Holy Terror”. She died in Portland at the age of 74.