Woman Making History #19: Dorothy Day

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dorothyday.jpgDorothy Day was born in Brooklyn in 1897. The Day family moved to Chicago in the mid 1900's. Day's mother was a devout Catholic, and her father, after some time unemployed, was a Chicago newspaperman.

Day entered the University of Illinois at Urbana on a scholarship in 1914. She went for two years, attending more radical functions than she did classes, before she dropped out. She then moved to New York City, where she began writing for the socialist newspaper The Call. She then wrote for The Masses, a magazine opposing U.S. involvement in European war.

In November 1917, Day went to jail with other women for standing in front of the White House to protest women's exclusion from voting. She went with the other women to work camps and participated in hunger strikes until they were freed by presidential order.

Throughout the late teens and early twenties, Day continued to write for newspapers and magazines (as well as write novels), attend protests, and make her way towards the Catholic faith.

In 1927, Day gave birth to her only child, Tamar Theresa Day. She has an abortion several years earlier, for which she felt tremendous guilt and because of which she thought she was unable to conceive, so she considered Tamar's birth a miracle, sealing her faith in God and her commitment to Catholicism. Day both baptized Tamar a Catholic and was received into the Church herself.

In 1932, Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant and former Christian brother. It was Maurin's idea to start a newspaper to publicize Catholic teachings as a means of peacefully transforming society. Day ran with this idea, and on May 1, the first copies of The Catholic Worker were distributed.

The Catholic Worker was met with an unusual level of instant success, with a circulation of 100,000 by December 1932. Out of the ideas of kindness, hospitality, and brotherhood featured in the paper, the idea of hospitality houses arose. First Day's own apartment was opened to strangers needing a place to stay, then more apartments were rented for those in need. The number of beds available grew quickly, but, as it was the Depression, there were never enough. What most surprised the people (mostly men) who stayed at the hospitality houses was that nobody tried to reform them or force the faith upon them. There was no idea of deserving poor in the Catholic houses--everyone deserved a roof over his/her head and a hot meal. Everyone deserved a chance.

By 1936, there were 33 Catholic Worker houses spread across the country. There was no time limit for how long people could stay at the Catholic houses--they could stay forever if they wanted to. Once they were there, they were family, Day said.

Even in the times before and during World War II, Day insisted that the paper and the houses remain pacifist--an unpopular position. It took a toll, with 15 houses closing, but Day's program survived. In the 1950's, the houses refused to participate in annual civil defense drills. Day and other dissidents were sent to jail for opposing these drills, for periods of five to thirty days, nearly every year from 1955 to 1960.

The Catholic Workers movement also stressed the importance of civil rights, in keeping with their overall tenants of equality, love, and brotherhood among all people.

Day was last jailed for participating in an illegal protest supporting farm workers in 1973. She was 75 years old.

In her later life, Day was highly regarded, receiving many awards, and visitors such as Mother Theresa. She took communion directly from the Pope in 1967. Many called her a saint. "Don’t' call me a saint," Day said. "I don't want to be dismissed so easily."

Dorothy Day died on November 29, 1980.

The Catholic Worker


->-> Fellow NaBloPoMo writer. I saw, I clicked, I read.

Thank you for highlighting politcally involved women who made a difference.

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