biography

Women on Fire: Marie Equi & Mary MacLane

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two American women challenged social norms and pushed themselves, and the world around them, to their limits. Mary MacLane, hailing from Butte, Montana, bucked convention for a shining moment in the sun, for a chance to live life as fast as she could instead of accepting a life that didn’t fit. Marie Equi always strove for the betterment of working class communities and advocated suffrage for women. She left high school to work in a textile mill, only to return to academia with a vengeance and graduate from medical school.

Both women seemed larger-than-life. And yet, despite the indelible impressions they left on their time and place, Marie and Mary all but disappeared from collective consciousness, even within their own lifetimes. Neither women expected to fade from the history pages they had helped write. Historian Michael Helquist drew from numerous resources to resurrect Equi’s life. Melville House reissued MacLane’s memoir through their Neversink Library (which follows the sentiment that when you have your best books by your side, you’re never alone and never totally bereft).

It’s the last day of Women’s History Month, but, as we all know, women are making history every minute of every day. Learning of LBGTQ2IA women in history is one of my passions and someday I will visit the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City. Also, check out the Gay Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest‘s website. Please share books by or about historical figures in the comment section below. I would love to add to my personal library!

 

Marie Equi was bold, brassy, smart, and driven by her social conscience. Born in 1872 in New Bedford, Massachussets, she grew up in a large, working-class Irish-Italian family. She was never one to let her social or economic circumstances (much less allow society to dictate to her based on her gender) keep her down or accept the status quo. The roller coaster of her life includes forays into homesteading near the Dalles in Oregon; treating San Francisco earthquakes victims in 1906; supporting striking laborers; and providing abortions. Not to mention her relationships with strong, community-minded women. 

Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions by Michael Helquist
Publisher: Oregon State University Press
Released: 2015
ISBN: 978-0-87071-595-2

Check your local public library for availability. I asked mine to purchase it and they did! Join the discussion on Goodreads.

wood floor

Mary MacLane was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on May 1, 1881. Growing up in small Minnesota and Montana towns, she yearned for adventure, unconventional thrills, and helter skelter big city pulsations. She wrote for her school newspaper, as well as kept a diary of her experiences and inner-life. Originally published by Herbert S. Stone & Company in 1902 as “The Story of Mary MacLane” (that title reflects a change from the author’s more fiery, intended title “I Await the Devil’s Coming”, as noted in the book’s 2013 foreword by Jessa Crispin). The memoir was lauded by critics and launched into bestseller status by a voracious public. MacLane’s conversational style and openness about most facets of her life connected with many readers. I can only imagine her Twitter feed and YouTube channel. 

I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane
Published by Melville House
ISBN: 9781612191959
Publication date: March 2013

Check your local public library for availability. Join the discussion on Goodreads.

Categories: biography, history, lgbt, Memoirs & Autobiographies | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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