The University of Oregon Libraries recently hosted an engaging and inspiring book talk by historian, activist, and author Michael Helquist about his new biography of Marie Equi (1872-1952). Marie Equi: Radical Politics & Outlaw Passions (OSU Press, 2016) tells the fascinating story of one of Oregon’s first women to become a physician. Equi was also a tireless agitator for women’s suffrage, access to reproductive health services, social and economic justice, and peace at a time when such views were considered seditious. She was sentenced to three years in San Quentin for speaking out against the U.S. entry into World War I. Equi lived openly as a lesbian in Portland and fought for the rights of LGBT people all of her life.
After her death in 1952, Equi’s family destroyed her papers. In his presentation, Helquist described the difficult process of tracking down the surviving primary sources that would enable him to piece together Equi’s life story (some of which he discovered in Special Collections & University Archives). Like Equi, many important figures in LGBT history have been forgotten or overlooked in mainstream history because, as members of marginalized communities, their contributions have not been seen as significant and worth preserving. Helquist argued for the importance of recovering these histories to illuminate the diverse and dynamic past we all share.