Dorothy Day

(1897-1980)

 

Where most people would find filth and disgust in inter-city life, Dorothy Day had the ability to find beauty. She saw past the run-down apartment buildings and families cramped into tiny living spaces. She heard the sounds of families laughing and babies crying. Her nose would pick out the tantalizing aromas of fresh coffee from the coffee shops on the corner and bread baking in baker's ovens. She could see the small gardens (some so small as to be on fire escapes) with the smells of tomato plants and geranium bushes. Fresh roasted garlic just tossed in the pan of sizzling olive oil wafting from the open windows. 

"Here," she said, "was enough beauty to satisfy me."

Dorothy Day understood the life of the cramped apartment building. In 1906, after surviving the earthquake in San Francisco, her family moved back to the Eastern United States to Chicago. With her father out of work she came to understand the shame of Southside life. Even after her father got a job for a local newspaper and they were able to move to the North side of Chicago, she still maintained her interest of the parts of town that people avoided. In her youth, she was inspired by religion, from attending church with her sister, to reading the psalms, and John Wesley's sermons. But she lost it somewhere, she was lead down another path because she saw what others didn't see around them. Hurt...poverty... hunger... filth... She also heard people in church speaking of helping those people but they didn't know how to accomplish this. So...

She went off to college and found a group that had an idea of how to do this. We all agree that Marx had a good idea, in theory. We can agree that this world would be a better place with no hunger and no homeless. If everyone had food on their tables and roofs over their heads, but this doesn't work in practice. "She scorned religion as an opiate for the people and concentrated on her love for the masses (Loneliness, 19-46) (Spiritual Guide for Today, 44-60)." After a few years of college she moved to New York City to work for a Socialist daily paper, where she was appalled by the homelessness and unemployed on the streets (Loneliness, 51). Dorothy went to jail for "obstructing traffic" while protesting the American involvement in World War I outside of the White House in 1917. She was sentenced to 3 days in jail.

On November 10 and 11 Dorothy was again before a Judge in D.C. being sentenced to jail time. This time all the women who participated in the protests were sent to Occoquan workhouse. Where they were sentenced from 15 days to six months. This is where Dorothy asked the prison guard for a bible and started reading it to bring herself peace (Miller, 90-100). This was the turning point of her non-religious life. She started reading the bible and then praying to God. She returned to her early life of worship and praise. But this conflicted with her "life". She returned to New York and started the daily ritual of attending early morning Mass.

Dorothy moved back to Chicago where she fell in love with Lionel Moise, a newspaper man. She became pregnant with his child and knew that he would leave her if she had the child. So she had an abortion and he left anyway. She was broken hearted but didn't lay down 'n die, as the song goes. No she went on with her life and moved back to New York where she met Forster Batterham. With in a year he was her common-law husband. She describes him as, "The man I loved... was an anarchist, an Englishman by descent and a biologist.... His friends were mostly liberals and his sympathies were decentralist and anti-industrialist, though he loved the machine and the illusion of progress.... He was never active in any of the groups in which we mingled. His position probably approximated that of those who came later to be called the Southern agrarians." (Miller, 166)

In 1927 she finally had the child she had been wanting but this cost her dearly, her daughter did. It cost her, her greatest love. She wanted to join the Catholic church and have her daughter raised in a community of praise. Her faith and her love for Batterham conflicted, and she choose the church.

The last man to enter her life would be Peter Maurin but he was never a lover. He was her co-creator of the Catholic Worker movement.

Jim Forest

The Catholic Worker

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04/14/01

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