Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper, was an American journalist, Catholic activist and reformer. Born on November 8, 1897 in New York City to Episcopalian parents, Day became a lay leader in the Catholic Worker Movement and referred to herself as an anarchist. Day died on November 29, 1980 in the city of her birth.
While Day was born in the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Bath Beach, she was raised in both San Francisco and Chicago. Her parents were typical middle-class Americans. Dorothy's father, John Day, was a Southerner of Scotch-Irish extraction. Day's mother Grace was raised in upstate New York and was of English extraction. Grace and John had married in a Greenwich Village Episcopal church located in the same area where Day was later to spend her young adult years.
As a student at the University of Illinois (1914-1916), Dorothy became an avid reader of socialist literature and ended up joining the Socialist Party. On her return to New York City in 1916, Day joined the staff of the socialist newspaper, The Call. Day also became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
In 1917, Day left The Call and worked for The Masses until the government suppressed the publication only a few months later. The Masses was succeeded by the Liberator where Day also worked for a brief stint before taking work in Brooklyn as a nurse (1918-1919). Beginning in 1920, Day found jobs in journalism in Chicago and in New Orleans. After much introspection, Day joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1927. Her conversion led to her estrangement from the socialist radicals with whom she had been associated for more than a decade.
In 1932, Day began her association with Peter Maurin, a Catholic born in France who had created his own program for social reconstruction. Maurin called his program "the green revolution." The cornerstones of this program were communal farming and the creation of hospitality houses for the needy. Maurin persuaded Day to help him expand his program, which she reinvented as the Catholic Worker Movement. The aim of this movement was to unite intellectuals and workers alike in a common cause and to promote activities that included farming and discussions of Catholic theology. Day and Maurin joined forces in 1933 to found a monthly newspaper, the Catholic Worker, to help spread the ideas of the movement.
At the end of three years, circulation for the Catholic Worker had grown to 150,000. St. Joseph's House of Hospitality, based in New York City, served as the model on which many other such homes of hospitality were patterned. The movement spread to several cities throughout the United States and Canada.
The Catholic Worker Movement, led by Day, assumed radical stances on many issues during the heyday of its growth. The movement remained a staunch advocate of pacifism during World War II and offered support to conscientious objectors of the Catholic faith. Day, a self-professed anarchist, developed a reputation as an outstanding Roman Catholic lay leader during the 20th century.
The Catholic Worker Movement emphasized personal reform, pacifism, agrarianism, and the personal adoption of the principles outlined in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. After Dorothy formed the first group of like-minded souls in New York City, local groups spread throughout the United States and Canada, with each chapter of the Catholic Worker Movement operating as an independent entity. Prior to World War II, there were 35 such groups, each with their own houses of hospitality for the needy and their own farming communes.
Though the Catholic Worker, the monthly tabloid affiliated with the movement, adhered to a stance of strict pacifism, some young members did enter the armed services. As the war continued, the houses of hospitality languished and for the most part, died out. With the war's end, the movement found it had lost its strong influence, though remnants of the movement continued to constitute an important force within the Roman Catholic Church.
Day continued her activities on behalf of pacifism, protesting against the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1973, she was arrested while demonstrating her support of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in California. Dorothy died in the city of her birth, on the Lower East Side in a House of Hospitality. Dorothy Day published an autobiography, The Long Loneliness, in 1952. At the end of the 1990s, the Vatican was approached to begin a process of canonization for the lay leader. The Vatican granted permission to the Archdiocese of New York to open the cause for Day's canonization in March 2000.