Dorothy Day, 1897-1980

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Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Media, and Religion & Ethnic CultureWoman Tags: Journalist and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    A Catholic human rights activist, pacifist, and journalist. The co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.

    Dorothy May Day was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Chicago, the third of five children. Even though Day’s parents were not devoted Christian, she had been interested in religion from a young age, reading the Bible, attending church, and studying catechism. At the age of 14, she was baptized and confirmed in an Episcopal church. She was also an enthusiastic bookworm, reading one book after another, from Russian literature to American social works, such as The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, that shaped her way of thinking.
    After graduating high school, Day attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign for two years before moving to NYC. There, she settled on the Lower East Side and became involved with the literary and liberal bohemia, having several love affairs. With a growing interest in social causes, she searched for ways to help the workers and the poor. She joined the Industrial Workers of the World and wrote for several Socialist publications. She was arrested numerous times for her involvement in protests, and in 1917, after being jailed for protesting for women’s suffrage in front of the White House, she went on a 10 days hunger strike. In 1921, she married Berkeley Tobey, and the newlyweds traveled to Europe. Away from politics, she began working on a semi-autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin, which was published three years later. By then, Day and her husband separated, and with the payments for selling the movie rights to her novel, she bought a beach house in Staten Island.
    At 28 years old, Day, who thought she could not have children due to traumatic abortion, was surprised to realize that she is pregnant from her boyfriend, Forster Batterham. During her pregnancy, her connection to Catholicism has increased, and by the time her daughter Tamar was born, she was baptized and joined the Roman Catholic Church. Over the next few years, she supported herself by writing columns for local newspapers and book reviews for Catholic publications, combining her two passions – Catholicism and social activism.
    In 1932, Day met Peter Maurin, and together they founded The Catholic Worker Movement. They published a newspaper titled “Catholic Worker,” in which they promoted Catholic teachings, pacifism, and social justice principles, especially highlighting the working conditions of women and African Americans. Soon, the paper gained popularity, and within three years, it was distributed to 150,000 subscribers. As part of the movement’s agenda of hospitality, Day co-founded the House of Hospitality, a settlement house providing food and clothing for those in need, as well as several communal living farms. The movement spread out of NYC, and by 1941 it had more than 30 communities in the US, UK, and Canada.
    Throughout her life, she was dedicated to promoting her socialist beliefs inside her faith, writing, protesting, and campaigning for causes such as disabling nuclear weapons, equal rights for people of color, and defending the poor and the homeless. In her last years, she lived in one of the settlement houses she established in NYC. When she was 83 years old, she died from a heart attack.
    To this day, The Catholic Worker Movement is active, with more than 200 communities in the US and abroad.

    “Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.”

    “Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She interviewed Leon Trotsky for the Catholic Worker newspaper.
    • She published several autobiographical works, including “From Union Square to Rome,” and “The Long Loneliness.”
    • She baptized her daughter without the father’s knowledge and permission.
    • In her 70’s, she traveled to India and met Mother Teresa.
    • The inscription on her gravestone says “Deo Gratias” – “Thank God.”
    • She was portrayed by Moira Kelly in The film “Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story.”
    • The documentary “Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me a Saint” is exploring her life story.
    • The DC Comics character Leslie Thompkins is based on her.
    • In the 1990s began the process of her canonization. Though some members of the Catholic Worker Movement objected, claiming it is a contradiction of her values and concerns. In the meantime, she was named by the Vatican as “Servant of God.”
    • In 2015, she was called by Pope Francis as one of “four great Americans,” together with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Merton.
    • A statue of her is located outside St Mary’s Church, Colts Neck, NJ.
    • In 1972, the Jesuit magazine America celebrated her 75th birthday by devoting an issue to her and the Catholic Worker movement.
    • A professorship at St. John’s University School of Law is named in her honor.
    • The Dorothy Day Center for the homeless in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * The Pacem in Terris Award of the Interracial Council of the Catholic Diocese of Davenport (1971)
    * The University of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal (1972)
    * The Isaac Hecker Award of Boston's Paulist Center Community (1974)
    * The Franciscan University of Steubenville's Poverello Medal (1976)
    * The Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey (1992)
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (2001)

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Journalist, NYC Women

    "Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty" by Kate Hennessy (Subject Matters: S2.E4)

    The life and work of Dorothy Day—the iconic, celebrated, and controversial Catholic—told with illuminating detail by her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy.
    Watch more episodes of Subject Matters:

  • Dorothy Day in 1934. Credit-New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Photo credit - New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection @ Wikipedia<