Saturday, April 29, 2006

I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier

To commemorate Marie Equi’s pacifism and radicalism on May Day 2006, I offer a peace anthem from her times, available from the UCSB Cylinder Preservation and Digitization. This song expresses a British mother’s refusal to support World War I. Click to listen:

I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier (1915)
Composer/Performer: Piantadosi, Al, 1884-1955.
Composer/Performer: Clark, Helen, b. ca. 1890.

This old music is available for free, online from the UCSB Cylinder Preservation and Digitization website. Here’s the same song, sung by Carl Ely (also in 1915).
A million soldiers to the war have gone
who may never return again.

A million more must cross the strait
for the ones who died in vain.

Head fall down in sorrow,
in her lonely year
I heard a mother murmur through her tears,
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dared to place a musket on his shoulder,
o shoot some other mother’s darling boy?

…It’s time to lay the sword and turn away.
There’d be no war today
if mothers always say
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, 908,371 British were killed and died during the war.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tom Cook's article

In 1998, Tom Cook wrote an important article about Marie Equi, in cooperation with the Gay and Lesbian Archive of the Pacific Northwest. Cook does an exceptional job of finding beauty and meaning in Marie's prison correspondence. GLAPN is on hiatus, but we still have access to Cook's article through a website hosted by Utilly (?). Read more at

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Videoblog 2: earthquake tents in SF Presidio

Here's a videoblog experiment: low-quality video I took at the Presidio, where tents were setup during the centennial of the earthquake. We get some idea of the conditions in which about 200,000 people lived after being made homeless by the 1906 earthquake and fires. Hundreds of these tents were erected just east of the US Army General Hospital, where the Lucas development now stands. Marie Equi served at the US Army General Hospital.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Oregon History Project

The OHP offers a picture of Marie Equi's medical office, showing a young woman nurse attending to a well-dressed woman patient.


Highleyman's "Past Out" tells Marie's story

The column "Past Out" - carried by LGBT publications nationwide - told the story of Marie Equi this week, under the title "Who Was Marie Equi?" Past Out typically observes an anniversary, and so this month presented an opportunity to tell about Marie:

April 1906 (100 years ago this month): Lesbian doctor Marie Equi responds to San Francisco's great earthquake and fires.

Past Out appears locally in the Bay Area Reporter. The BAR included a photo of Michael presenting his talk at Harvey Milk Library last week.

Columnist Liz Highleyman is based here in the Bay Area, and was in contact with Michael while preparing the column. Michael provided some of his research information that isn't generally available.

Past Out appears in a long and short version. In the long version (click here to see it at Camp Rehoboth) Highleyman refers to our biography project:

According to Michael Helquist, who is writing a biography of Equi, she supervised nurses at the U.S. Army Hospital in the Presidio and rescued 26 mothers and their newborn infants from a raging blaze, earning widespread acclaim.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Torney descendants at the Presidio

It's one day after the exact 100-year anniversary of the SF earthquake, and tonight we attended a slide show and lecture about George H. Torney, an important figure in the SF earthquake story.

The lecture was by George Torney's great-grandson, Richard Torney (pictured here with his family after the talk - Richard has a beard and a red sweater). Richard sub-titled his talk Hygienic Catastrophy Averted, highlighting his great-grandfather's major acccomplishment: as the commander of the US Army General Hospital at the SF Presidio, Torney directed the city-wide measures that prevented any outbreaks of infectious disease among the 250,000+ refugees in SF after the earthquake. Richard's grandfather, Ned Torney, was a young man at the time, and an amateur photographer. Richard Torney shared his grandfather's earthquake photos - the first time they have had a public showing. My favorite were a series of photos of the Hotel Terminus - seen from East St (now named the Embarcadero) near the Ferry Building, which is sprayed with water pumped from the Bay as the fires menace the entire area.

Tonight's talk contained no mention of the "Oregon Doctor Train" (Marie Equi and the dozens of doctors and nurses who provided earthquake relief at the US Army Hospital and elsewhere). There was one slide, showing a memo, sent on April 21, 1906, in which SF Mayor Eugene Schmitz asks Torney to use the land and facilities at Harbor View Park for contagious disease hospital. That's the assignment that was handed down to KAJ Mackenzie, the leader of Oregon's doctor train.

After the talk, we were excited to meet two descendants of Frederick Funston, the Presidio's commanding officer at the time. Here they are with Michael: Deborah Helmken (center) and Martine Funston (right).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

New Bedford update & Councilor DeMedeiros

A public forum on hate crimes happened on April 4 (which I previewed in a previous post). And Marie Equi's hometown, New Bedford, now has an "out" gay public official: Ward 3 Councillor Joe DeMedeiros.

DeMedeiros is quoted in the local paper, The Standard Times (4/06/06, Page A09): "I didn't walk into the room expecting to do it...After hearing what people had said, I felt this responsibility and obligation to do what I did." The article by Aaron Nicodemus is online at, and the website also has extended special on the Jacob Robida hate crime.

Congratulations, Joe, on speaking out.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Michael posts: Thanks for coming to our lecture

After a successful lecture Tuesday night, I asked Michael to write for Stormy Petrel. Here's his contribution.


There's a headline that would make Marie Equi happy! On a chilly and very wet night, Tuesday April 11, nearly 100 people packed the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch library in San Francisco's Castro District to hear the story of Marie Equi and her efforts in post-earthquake San Francisco.

We told the story of Marie's joining 40 other doctors and nurses on what was called the "Oregon Doctor Train" to help the 1906 earthquake sufferers. Marie was the only woman doctor on the expedition and she was placed in charge of the Oregon nurses at San Francisco's US Army Presidio.

The highlights of the story -- which forms a chapter in my biography of Marie Equi -- included her rescuing 23 recent mothers with their infants from a hospital fire, her walking the Presidio grounds with Gail Laughlin (the lesbian attorney and suffrage organizer), her commandeering a private automobile, and her rebuttal to a San Francisco physician who charged that the Oregon doctors were uninvited and unwanted and should return home immediately.

Woven into the earthquake relief story was a narrative of Marie's early life in New Bedford, Massachusetts, her homestead with a girlfriend in The Dalles, Oregon and, yes, the horsewhipping of the school superintendent/Baptist minister in the center of town in 1893! Everyone loved that story.

Marie Equi is, of course, more than a colorful character. She was also a courageous and bold fighter for her own independence and the rights of those abused by injustice.

The audience at the "narrative with images" enjoyed the photos of early Portland, Oregon; the San Francisco earthquake images, and the portraits and news clippings about Marie.

The 50-minute presentation was followed with Q&A. My favorite was "When will your book be published?" (Answer: not soon enough! research still underway). But several people seemed genuinely inspired by Marie's life and were surprised they had heard so little of her previously.

The success of the San Francisco presentation is a great boost as Dale and I prepare for the Portland lecture and slide show on May 12, noon, at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).

Michael Helquist

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gee, Catherine, that's Swell!

Marie appeared in Sunday's SF Chron - in the society column "Swells" by Catherine Bigelow.

Alongside well-worn names like Stanlee Gatti, and the latest gal pal of Willie Brown, and Mayor Newsom beating the bongos in North Beach, Catherine writes:

Flying the "only in San Francisco" rainbow flag: The Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Library presents a slide-show discussion Tuesday titled: "Lesbian to the Rescue: Dr. Marie Equi and the 1906 Earthquake Relief."

At first we weren't sure how we felt about that particular flag being offered to our talk about Marie Equi. Then we figured, if they offer it, we'll fly it.

The column continues on with another item about the "San Francisco Rising Centennial Cocktail Celebration" at Tres Agaves with Mayor and our chief of Protocol, Charlotte Mailliard Shultz. This item brings to mind some observations by Gregory Dicum published in today's New York Times:

" the face of ... ominous portents, a jittery boosterism fills the space between dread and denial. The frenetic celebration is a tempor
ary holiday from reality: after all, what are the chances the Big One will hit precisely 100 years after the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906?"
..."We forget by celebrating," says Philip L. Fradkin, whose Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, "The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906," has just been released in paperback. A new introduction draws sobering parallels that suggest nothing has changed from the unpreparedness of 100 years ago.

Monday, April 10, 2006

"Everyone Wants a Piece of '06 Earthquake Pie..." the title of an Associated Press article by Lisa Leff that appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune and other papers in March 2006. Here's the relevant quote:

"Other anniversary activities include a new work by the San Francisco Ballet in which a dancer improvises her movements to real-time seismic data conveyed to the stage via the Internet and a city library exhibit about a lesbian doctor who traveled to San Francisco from Portland Ore., to treat the injured in '06."

Too bad it didn't give her name. And we don't have a Marie Equi exhibit - yet!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bay Area Reporter covers next week's slide show

The Bay Area Reporter has an article by Rob Akers this week, titled "Program on 1906 earthquake looks at lesbian doctor" (Vol. 36, No. 14, 6 April 2006). The article touts Michael's upcoming lecture. We're really happy to have this promotion of the lecture and Rob did a great job reporting on the highlights of Equi's life in the context of this month's earthquake commemoration.

Thank you, Rob, and news editor Cynthia Laird for this chance to get the word out about our talk and about Marie Equi.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Nancy Krieger, pioneer for Marie Equi and public health

When you dig into Marie Equi's history, you find that one of the
important research articles about Marie was written by
Nancy Krieger and appeared in the journal Radical America.

To people in the field of Public Health (like me),
Nancy Krieger is a major name for other reasons.
Her work beginning during her graduate studies at
UC Berkeley School of Public Health has shaken up
a lot of the practices and assumptions in our profession.

For an informative description of Krieger's research
and life - and that of her brother, Seattle physician
Jim Krieger, check out a new
feature in the magazine of Harvard University
by Madeline Drexler.
The article tells about Krieger's convincing arguments and
empirical studies about how economic class affects health.
Her article Epidemiology and the web of causation:
has anyone seen the spider? Soc Sci Med,
1994, 39:887-903
is a modern classic that was already taught when I was in
public health school in 1998.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A new film by Mary Harron, and the Kefauver Hearings

Since Marie Equi was convicted and imprisoned for a speech crime, I hope to approach her story with an understanding of the limits on free speech in the United States.

Today's NYT contains an interview with the talented film director Mary Harron. Mary Harron has made great films with history/biography - like the story of Valerie Solanis in I Shot Andy Warhol. Harron's new film is The Notorious Bettie Page, and in the interview, Harron explains that her new film shows how Page ran into limits on free speech. Page is well-known as a sexy, kinky pinup of the Fifties. Apparently this led to her being called before the 1956 Kefauver Senate Hearings about dirty pictures in magazines and comic books. (A recent LA Times story explains that she was called but never actually appeared).

Here is Estes Kefauver. Reading of his life and politics, I actually find quite a bit to like. But as I try to look more into this episode, I'm finding there were actually several Kefauver hearings, and I'm also stepping off into the deep and strange world of comic books, which is not really a place I want to take you. So I'll just close with a picture of the fabulous Bettie Page. After all - it's her story, right?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

New Bedford today

When visiting New Bedford, Mass. in October 2004, we tried to imagine it in the 1870s and 1880s, when Marie lived there as a child. But I liked the place so much that I also keep track of what's going on there today. An article in the gay paper Bay Windows tells
how the community has come together after the horrific violence by a local 18-year-old who went nuts in a gay bar, Puzzles. He seriously injured three people there and later killed an Arkansas policeman, a "female traveling companion," and himself. A major community forum will happen on April 4.

The reporter compares the incident in context of other important hate crimes that occurred in New Bedford. One of them affected the relationship between local African-Americans and the Cape Verdean community. Another incident was a gang rape at Big Dan's Tavern - which led to a case that raised the nation's awareness of rape and the story that was told in the move The Accused.

I send out my prayers to the LGBT community in New Bedford. We look forward to returning to New Bedford to tell the story of their local girl, Marie Equi, who went to the public schools and worked in the local mills. Though Marie never returned to live in New Bedford, I think that growing up in this big, wealthy, and diverse city strengthened her character and self-confidence.

Dora Thompson follow-up

Michael and I searched the city directories at the SF public library, and then we went to look at Dora Thompon's home in San Francisco. Even more lovely than the house was the view across Marina Boulevard of the Golden Gate. Thompson lived here after returning from service in the Philippines. Posted by Picasa

Dora Thompson, Army Nurse Corps

As Marie started caring for patients in the US Army General Hospital, she would have worked with Dora Thompson, who was in charge of the Army Nurse Corps at the Presidio. Dora is pictured here, in a photo we found at the Presidio today. The display on how the Army cared for earthquake victims is housed in one of the two earthquake cottages that are permanently installed near the main post. Posted by Picasa

SF Earthquake tent

Living in a tent after an earthquake: exhibit at the SF Presidio, opened this weekend. Posted by Picasa