Dorothy Day biography
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 guided by its religious principles. Day also helped establish special homes to help those in need.
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 in 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 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 get women the right to vote.
In personal life, Day experienced some turmoil. She was involved with writer Lionel Moise for a time. When she became pregnant, he insisted she have an abortion. She terminated her pregnancy, but the relationship still didn't last. After this incident, Day wandered around for a time, living in Europe and California among other places.
Using her experiences as a progressive activist and an artistic bohemian, Day wrote a novel The Eleventh Virgin. The book was published in 1924. Around this time, she became involved with Forster Batterham, a biologist and an anarchist. They lived together for several years and welcomed a daughter whom they named Tamar Therese. 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.
'The Catholic Worker'
Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant and former Christian brother, in 1932. Together they founded The Catholic Worker, a newspaper promoting Catholic teachings and tackling societal issues of the day, the following year. The publication became very successful and spawned the Catholic Worker Movement, which tackled issues of social justice guided by its religious principles. 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, Catholicism. She died on November 29, 1980, in New York City, at Maryhouse—one of the Catholic settlement houses that she had helped establish. The movement she created continues to thrive to this day with roughly 200 communities across the United States and more than 20 communities abroad.
Over the years, Day's life story has been the subject of countless 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 the documentary's title, many people have proposed that Day be named a saint for her social activism and commitment to her faith.