Biography for Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day, besides founding the Catholic Worker movement, was a prominent advocate of social justice. A nonviolent social radical and a devout Roman Catholic, Day played a seminal role in developing the social and economic thinking of a generation of American Catholic priests and laypersons. Day was born a Protestant in Brooklyn, New York on November 8, 1897 and raised by her sportswriter father, an agnostic, to be indifferent toward religion. She grew up in the Bay Area of California and Chicago. After attending the University of Illinois for two years on a scholarship, Day moved back to New York with her family in 1916. She joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, known as the Wobblies), and for two years, she worked as a reporter for The Call, a socialist daily newspaper, covering strikes, protests, and walkouts. When she left The Call, she wrote for two other radical publications, The Masses and The Liberator. During this period, Day adopted a Bohemian lifestyle and became an intimate member of the radical intellectual circle of socialist writers and artists centered in Greenwich Village. The birth of her daughter in 1927 from a liaison with Forster Batterham (a biologist, atheist, and anarchist) prompted her to reorient her life dramatically to conform with a long-felt need to find a spiritual foundation for human existence. Against her common-law husband's desire, Day had her baby baptized a Roman Catholic and then entered the Catholic Church herself. Although her actions terminated her relationship with Batterham, she never regretted her choice. Day did not sacrifice her commitment to radical social ideas when she became a Catholic. She brought them with her, maintaining her radical attitudes in matters of social justice, race relations, pacifism, and conscientious objection to military service, though adhering to traditional Catholic teaching about theological issues. "When it comes to labor and politics," she once said, "I am inclined to be sympathetic to the left, but when it comes to the Catholic Church, then I am far to the right." Through her work for Commonweal, a liberal Catholic magazine, Day met Peter Maurin. He had a utopian vision for creating a future world that coincided with Day's hunger to combine her radical political ideas and Catholicism. They decided in 1933 to publish The Catholic Worker, a penny monthly newspaper for Catholics that focused on social issues. They also opened a hospice in New York to provide meals and temporary lodging for some of the Great Depression's unemployed, as well as for destitute families and derelicts. It became a prototype for Catholic hospices across the nation, some 30 of which were set up. The early articles in The Catholic Worker publicized the social programs of the Catholic Church and dealt with poverty and problems of unemployment. Concern for the downtrodden in society continued to dominate the publication long after the Great Depression, but it gradually became recognized just as much for its support of interracial justice, pacifism, and disarmament. Day's social policy, expressed in her actions and in The Catholic Worker, looked to the person rather than to mass action to transform society, but she remained committed to a vision of a radically improved world. She was sometimes arrested in demonstrations—typically in 1973 with César Chávez and his striking United Farm Workers of America. Day's social activism frequently brought her into conflict with conservative Church officials, but she was never ordered to curtail her behavior or leave the Church. She liked to describe herself as a "Christian anarchist," which meant that she was often at odds with Church officials but always animated by the spirit of love that she found perfectly exemplified in the life of Christ. Day died on November 29, 1980.