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January 2020

In Celebration of Ratification Day: Using Mari Equi in Classrooms; Recommended Reading

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified 100 years ago today, giving women the right to vote. Long before they could vote, women in Oregon were shaping our history and fighting for political, social, and economic justice. Among them was Marie Equi, a Portland physician and one of the first "out" lesbians in Oregon. Today's blog post examines some of the ways that Marie Equi has made her way into contemporary classrooms and offers some suggestions for further reading.

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The life story of Portland’s Dr. Marie Equi continues to appear in Pacific Northwest curriculum, according to Equi biographer Michael Helquist. Last spring an 8th grader in a private school in Portland contacted him through his website to ask about the history of abortions in Oregon. The student was curious about enforcement of the anti-abortion laws, and he asked how Equi had avoided prosecution. The student wrote that his inquiry had been approved by his school counselors since he had a well-defined project that he had already begun to research. He also took the occasion for an author interview, asking about motivation, obstacles, and the persistence needed to write history. 


On May 1st of last year, Professor Kimberly Jensen of Western Oregon University invited Helquist to speak to her undergraduate class, Women in Oregon History. Rather than a personal appearance, Helquist participated in a two-hour Q and A with the students via WebEx. All the students – about twenty young women and men– had read the full biography before the session, and they had prepared a list of questions and interests.


The comments and questions were spirited and probing, according to Helquist. “They were so appreciative of speaking to the author of one of the books they had enjoyed.” One spoke of her disappointment in not hearing about Marie Equi earlier in her schooling. This led to a discussion about historical erasure. Several expressed interest in pursuing a career in history. And they were especially curious about the research and writing process. The politics of abortion recurred again in questions. Following the discussion, Helquist notes, “the students mailed me a thank-you card with individual comments. I found it important that so many thanked me for ‘taking time’ and for ‘allowing us to engage with your book, knowledge, and personal experience.’ To me it suggests that students not only appreciated a change in classroom learning but also crave the interaction with someone from the outside listening to them individually.” 

 (For more information about using Marie Equi in the classroom, contact michael.helquist@gmail.com)

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For further reading, check out these books about women who changed the course of Oregon history:

Beyond the Rebel Girl: Women and the Industrial Workers of the World in the Pacific Northwest, 1905-1924 by Heather Mayer

A Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936 by Kimberley Mangun

Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions by Michael Helquist

The Only Woman in the Room: The Norma Paulus Story by Norma Paulus

Remembering the Power of Words: The Life of an Oregon Activist, Legislator, and Community Leader by Avel Louise Gordly

Shaping the Public Good: Women Making History in the Pacific Northwest by Sue Armitage

Up the Capitol Steps:A Woman's March to the Governorship by Barbara Roberts

With Grit and by Grace: Breaking Trails in Politics and Law by Betty Roberts

Yours for Liberty: Selections from Abigail Scott Duniway's Suffrage Newspaper edited by Jean M. Ward and Elaine A. Maveety

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