Radical Figures in Health History: Dr. Marie Equi

Posted on 10.17.2012 by Kelly

I first read about Dr. Marie Equi in a book I bought this summer, Revolutionary Women: A Book of Stencils, which awesomely describes her as “an anarchist, a supporter of the women's suffrage movement, an illicit abortion provider, an activist fighting for working-class rights, and an open lesbian.” I decided to check out a zine biography of her life called Queen of the Bolsheviks: The Hidden History of Dr. Marie Equi by Nancy Krieger, which I later found out was originally published in the journal Radical America and is available online here. Most of the information from this post was taken from this essay, and I would highly recommend it.

Marie Equi was a contemporary of Emma Goldman, born in 1872 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her mother was originally from Ireland and her father had immigrated from Italy; both parents brought their experiences under one form of occupation or another in teaching Marie to “abhor absolutism, monarchy and oppression” (*Queen of the Bolsheviks*). Marie started working in the textile mills of New Bedford at age 8 and came down with tuberculosis at age 13. She recovered and went to live with her grandfather in Italy from 1886-1889. Upon her return to America Marie decided to move to Oregon with her friend, Bess Holcom, who had been offered a job as a teacher there. In one example of Marie Equi's badassery, upon finding out that the school superintendent decided not to give Bess a job after all, Marie confronted him in the streets with a horsewhip. As written in Queen of the Bolsheviks, “needless to say, Bess got her job.”

As for Marie, she began studying at the Physicians and Surgeons Medical College in San Francisco in 1900. She later transferred to the University of Oregon Medical School once they began admitting women, and received her degree in 1903. In the years after graduating, she set up a medical practice treating working-class women and children and also became involved in the movement for women's suffrage. After the devastation of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco she rallied a group of doctors and nurses from Portland to help tend to the southern city's injured. During this time she also began a relationship with a woman named Harriet Speckart, with whom she lived until 1920. The women adopted a baby named Anna in 1915, when Marie was 43 and Harriet was 32.

Although she always had a working-class consciousness and had been active in reform-oriented politics, Marie quickly became radicalized after witnessing the brutality of repression as well as the hypocrisy of reformers during the Oregon Packing Company fruit cannery workers' strike in 1913. Soon after this she became involved with the International Workers of the World (IWW), working on campaigns supporting timber workers in the Northwest. She remained active with the IWW throughout her life, responding to national events such as the Everett Massacre in Massachusetts in 1916, and the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen's Strike. Marie also joined the American Union Against Militarism not long after the start of World War I. Her involvement with this organizations led to her arrest in 1918 after saying that “workers should not participate in a war where they would be killing fellow workers at the bidding of their masters” during an antiwar speech for a group of IWW members (*Queen of the Bolsheviks*). During her trial the prejudice against her political beliefs was transparent, and she was sentenced to three years in jail as well as a $500 fine. Marie appealed her case, but her appeals were denied and she began a shortened sentence on October 19, 1920.

While in jail, Marie wrote extensively to her large network of activist friends, including Margaret Sanger, with whom she had become close after their meeting in 1916 when Sanger came to Portland on a speaking tour discussing the necessity of legal birth control. Equi was a proponent of birth control and in her medical practice provided abortions to anyone who needed them. During Sanger's Oregon visit, Marie edited her pamphlet on birth control and defended her associates against obscenity charges. Bonded by their shared political involvement, the women became lifelong friends. It should be noted that while Margaret Sanger was instrumental in gaining widespread acceptance and distribution of contraceptives, she was also a racist supporter of eugenics. As with the development of the birth control pill and the IUD, which I hope to write about soon, it is disgusting that much of the research and support for potentially lifesaving technologies has been accompanied by racism, colonialism, and classism in addition to sexism.

Upon her release from jail in 1921, Marie led a much quieter life. She was not inspired by any of Portland's political activities throughout the 1920's. However, she did house another female IWW activist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who was in need of rest after campaigning for the release of anarchist political prisoners Sacco and Vanzetti. Elizabeth lived with Marie for ten years, from 1926-1936, taking care of Equi after a heart attack in 1930. After this point Equi was largely confined to bed, but was visited by many younger activists in her later years. Not much is known about the end of Marie's life, but she died in 1952 having enriched the lives of her many friends and those she served as a physician and activist committed to ending militarism and capitalism. It is inspiring to read about Dr. Equi today, and I am happy to include her in this series uncovering radical figures and movements in health history.

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One Small Step for Abortion Equality in the UK

Posted on 10.12.2012 by Chantal

Somedays we could all some good news, right?

The first private (not state-run) abortion clinic in Northern Ireland will open its doors next week. The clinic, owned and operated by Marie Stopes International (think of it as the UK's version of Planned Parenthood), will provide medication abortion procedures up to 9 weeks of pregnancy. Despite the fact that abortion is legal in England, Scotland, and Wales up to 24 weeks gestation, in Northern Ireland abortion is only legal in cases of life endangerment to the woman or permanent physical or mental harm.

The folks at Marie Stopes have allegedly pledged to obey the laws regarding abortion. And even if they don't have much to work with, I'd imagine that the effects will be widespread. Up until this point, women in Northern Ireland who are seeking abortion services have mostly been forced to leave the country.

I can only hope that this the start of a larger effort to expand reproductive health services in the area and to push for fewer restrictions and greater access!

For more info, check out BBC News and Marie Stopes International.

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When Fatphobia and Sexism Combine...You Get One Seriously Fucked-Up T-Shirt.

Posted on 10.10.2012 by Amy

I wrote an article for Women's eNews this week about how the fat acceptance movement is helping heavier women embrace their bodies, gain confidence and have more fulfilling sex lives. The article hails some recent triumphs in the battle against fatphobia, including the video of a news anchor hitting back at a viewer who dissed her "physical condition," and Lady Gaga's half-naked launch of a so-called "body revolution."

Then comes this on my newsfeed.

A fraternity at Amherst College designed a t-shirt that features a woman with bruises or scratches on her body and an apple in her mouth roasting.on.a.spit.like.a.pig. As Dana Bolger wrote in her post on an Amherst College blog, if you want to know what sexism and misogyny look like in 2012, this is it. The caption? "Roasting Fat Ones Since 1847."

While writing my article last week I wondered if all readers, especially those with, you know, skinny privilege, would understand what "fatphobia" was. Would most people intuitively get the connection between the social messaging that casts fat women as ugly and undesirable and misogyny, which teaches all women that our bodies - fat, skinny, disabled, trans, white, Black, Latina, gorgeous - are objects subject to appraisal and not, ultimately, our own?

In my attempt to come up with a succinct argument for why feminism and fat acceptance are linked, I could not have arrived at a more powerful example than this shirt. Let this disgusting image remind us that all bodies deserve not only acceptance, but freedom from this kind of hate.

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Study Finds Free Birth Control Leads to Fewer Abortions. In Other News, Earth’s Rotation Around the Sun Leads to Seasonal Changes.

Posted on 10.09.2012 by Lily

As a friend of mine wrote when I posted the story about this study on Facebook the other day, that is some embarrassingly circular logic.

In other words, those of us who subscribe to reality knew this already.

The project tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, many of them poor or uninsured. They were given their choice of a range of contraceptive methods at no cost — from birth control pills to goof-proof options like the IUD or a matchstick-sized implant.

When price wasn't an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives — the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert. These women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies as a result, reported Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis in a study published Thursday.

Not surprising. Unfortunately, as Kelly well knows, many women do have price as an issue when considering their birth control options. For uninsured women, or women who don't have contraceptive coverage, the upfront cost of an IUD or implant - which can range from maybe $400 to over $1000 - is absurdly prohibitive. So what often happens is that they stick to using something like the pill, with monthly co-pays that probably end up costing more in the long run, but are more manageable in the short term. And since typical use of the pill, which must be remembered daily, is not nearly as effective as implanted devices that you get to forget about completely, these women are far more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy.

Unfortunately, this embarrassingly circular logic does not usually lead to its embarrassingly obvious solution: make contraception, especially the long-term, reversible types like the IUD and implant, as widely available and accessible as possible. Everyone should be able to agree on this no matter their feelings on abortion.

But those who fight against abortion aren't really just fighting abortion, are they? They're not really fighting abortion at all, actually, only fighting for it to move underground and become more dangerous. Those of us who work to provide birth control services and education do more to reduce the number of abortions than the anti-choice movement ever has.

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A New York Clinic Closes. What Does It Mean for Access?

Posted on 10.03.2012 by Amy

I almost missed the most recent loss.

An abortion clinic in Brooklyn, New York has reportedly shut down after patients and doctors were driven away by anti-choice protesters. It was a quick headline on the New York Daily News website, a quick tweet I happened to notice, and another clinic is gone.

So while we watch the creep of TRAP laws threatening clinics from Mississippi and Virginia to Utah; while we Republican legislators redefine rape and claim abortion doctors abort fetuses that don’t exist; we have lost another small, quiet battle in the culture wars.

The loss of any clinic is a big deal, even in New York City, where the National Abortion Federation lists more than half a dozen member clinics. The reason that it’s a big deal is that when it comes to abortions, as with any medical procedure sought by people with hectic lives in an unforgiving economic world, convenience.is.key.

Oddly, the clinic closing made me think about Mike Birbiglia, the comedian who chronicles his experience with a sleep disorder in the film “Sleepwalk With Me.” Initially, after crashing through his home breaking things at night, Birgilia recounts in his comedy routine how he considered seeking help.

“I Thought ‘maybe I should see a doctor,’” he recounts. “Then i thought "maybe I'll eat dinner."


Eventually, Birbiglia crashed through a second-story glass window in his sleep and nearly killed himself.

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