Dorothy Day (November 8, 1897 – November 29, 1980) was an American journalist turned social activist and devout member of the Catholic Church. She became known for her social justice campaigns in defense of the poor, forsaken, hungry and homeless.
Alongside Peter Maurin, she founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933, espousing nonviolence, and hospitality for the impoverished and downtrodden. Day initially lived a bohemian lifestyle, with two common law marriages and an abortion she later wrote about in her semi-autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin. With the birth of her daughter, Tamar, she began a period of spiritual awakening which led her to embrace Catholicism, joining the church in December 1927 with baptism at Our Lady Help of Christians parish on Staten Island.
The Catholic workers union was founded and started with the Catholic Worker newspaper, created to stake out a neutral, pacifist, even anarchist position in the increasingly war-torn 1930s. This grew into a “house of hospitality” in the slums of New York City and then a series of farms for the poor to live together communally. The movement quickly spread to other cities in the United States, and to Canada and the United Kingdom; more than 30 independent but affiliated Catholic Worker communities had been founded by 1941. Well over 100 communities exist today, including several in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden.
By the 1960s, Day was embraced by progressive Catholics. Yet, although Day had written passionately about women’s rights, free love and birth control in the 1910s, she opposed the sexual revolution of the sixties, saying she had seen the ill effects of a similar sexual revolution in the 1920s, when she had her abortion. Day had a progressive attitude toward social and economic rights with a very orthodox and traditional sense of Catholic morality and piety.
Day is buried in Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island, just a few blocks from where her beachside cottage once stood where she first became interested in Catholicism.
Day was proposed for sainthood by the Claretian Missionaries in 1983. Some opponents have found her unworthy because of the “sins of her youth”—pre-marital sex and an abortion. Others, the Catholic Workers among them, found the process unworthy of her. Nevertheless, the Pope granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open Day’s “cause” in March of 2000, officially bestowing upon her the title of Servant of God.
- The Eleventh Virgin (1924)
- From Union Square to Rome (1938)
- House of Hospitality (1939)
- On Pilgrimage (1948)
- The Long Loneliness: the autobiography of Dorothy Day (1952)
- Loaves and Fishes (1963)
- On Pilgrimage: The Sixties (1972)
- Therese (1979)
- Ellsberg, Robert (ed). Dorothy Day, selected writings: By little and by little (1992)
- Quigley, Margaret and Michael Garvey (eds). The Dorothy Day book (1982)
- Vishnewski, Stanley (ed). Meditations/Dorothy Day (1970)
- Coles, Robert. Dorothy Day: a radical devotion (1987)
- Egan, Eileen. Dorothy Day and the permanent revolution (1983)
- Forest, Jim. Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day (1986)
- Kent, Deborah. Dorothy Day: Friend to the Forgotten (1996)
- Miller, William D. Dorothy Day: A Biography (1982)
- Miller, William D. A Harsh and Dreadful Love: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement (1973)
- O’Grady, Jim. Dorothy Day: with love for the poor (1993)
- Roberts, Nancy. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker (1984)
- Amazon’s Dorothy Day page