Dorothy Day Biography

Religious Figure, Activist, Editor, Women's Rights Activist, Anti-War Activist, Journalist(1897–1980)
Dorothy Day was an activist who worked for such social causes as pacifism and women's suffrage through the prism of the Catholic Church.

Synopsis

Intrigued by the Catholic faith for years, Dorothy Day converted in 1927. In 1933, she co-founded The Catholic Worker, a newspaper promoting Catholic teachings that became very successful and spawned the Catholic Worker Movement, which tackled issues of social justice. Day also helped establish special homes to help those in need.

Early Life

Writer, editor and social reformer Dorothy Day was born on November 8, 1897, in New York City. Day was a radical during her time, working for such social causes as pacifism and women's suffrage. She was the third of five children born to her parents, Grace and John, who worked as a journalist. The family moved to California for his job when Dorothy was 6 years old. They later lived in Chicago.

A bright student, Day was accepted to the University of Illinois. She was enrolled there from 1914 to 1916, but she abandoned her studies to move to New York City. There, Day became involved with a literary and liberal crowd in the city's Greenwich Village neighborhood. Playwright Eugene O'Neill was one of her friends at the time. Day worked as a journalist, writing for several socialist and progressive publications in the 1910s and '20s. She interviewed a number of interesting public figures of the day, including Leon Trotsky.

Journalist and Activist

Socially and politically active, Day was arrested several times for her involvement in protests. She even went on a hunger strike after being jailed for protesting in front of the White House in 1917 as part of an effort to secure the right to vote for women.

In her personal life, Day experienced some turmoil. She was involved with writer Lionel Moise for a time. After Day became pregnant, she gave in to Moise's insistence that she have abortion, but the relationship still didn't last. Day then married a literary promoter named Berkeley Tobey, with whom she toured Europe, but they separated within a year.

Using her experiences as a progressive activist and an artistic bohemian, Day wrote The Eleventh Virgin, a novel that was published in 1924. It was also around this time that she began a relationship with Forster Batterham, a biologist and an anarchist. While the couple never married, they welcomed a daughter named Tamar Teresa and Day had the child baptized at a Catholic church—a decision that started her on the path to her spiritual awakening. In late 1927, she converted to Catholicism and left Batterham, though she pined for him for a long while afterward.

'The Catholic Worker'

Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant and former Christian Brother, in 1932. The following year, they founded The Catholic Worker, a newspaper that promoted Catholic teachings and examined societal issues. The publication became very successful and spawned the Catholic Worker Movement, which followed its religious principles to tackle issues of social justice. As part of the movement’s belief in hospitality, Day helped establish special homes to help those in need.

In addition to her writing for The Catholic Worker, Day also penned several autobiographical works. She explained her religious conversion in 1938's From Union Square to Rome, writing the book as a letter to her brother, an ardent communist. In 1952, Day released her second autobiography, The Long Loneliness.

Death and Legacy

Dorothy Day dedicated much of her life in service to her socialist beliefs and her adopted faith. She died on November 29, 1980, in New York City, at Maryhouse—one of the Catholic settlement houses she had helped establish. The movement she created continues to thrive to this day, with more than 200 communities across the United States and another 28 communities abroad.

Over the years, Day's life story has been the subject of numerous books and films. In 1996, Moira Kelly played her in the movie Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story. Martin Sheen portrayed her Catholic Worker co-founder, Peter Maurin, in the film. Day was also the subject of the 2006 documentary Dorothy Day: Don't Call Me a Saint

Despite that documentary's title, many people have proposed that Day be named a saint for her social activism and commitment to her faith. In 2015, Pope Francis called her out as one of "four great Americans," along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton.

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