Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker


Fifty years ago, Dorothy Day sold the first issue of the Catholic Worker in New York, and one of the most remarkable newspapers in American history was born. It advocated something revolutionary for 1933 America: the union of Catholicism with a passionate concern for social justice and with personal activism.

Today, the Catholic Worker, still a monthly with some 100,000 subscribers, remains a leader in pacifism and social justice activism. The dean of American journalism historians, Edwin Emery, recently acknowledged the extremely significant role of the Catholic Worker in the history of advocacy and religious journalism.

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker examines Dorothy Day's vital role as editor, publisher, and chief writer the person who guided the paper's content and tone until her death in 1980 at the age of 83. A devout Catholic, Dorothy Day never criticized the Church's teachings only its failure to live up to them. Her determined leadership gave the Catholic Worker its consistency and continuity through even those periods in American history most hostile to its message.

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker is the first full-length, scholarly study of the newspaper. Drawing primarily on the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University and on interviews with former Catholic Worker editors from the 1930s on, it traces the paper's history, highlighting crisis points such as the Spanish Civil War and World War II, when individuals selling the Catholic Worker were sometimes beaten in the streets. During the McCarthy era, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam, the Catholic Worker maintained its commitment to peace and social justice. A final chapter links the Catholic bishops recent pastoral letter on nuclear warfare with the peace leadership provided by the Catholic Worker."


Sometime in the early Seventies when I was studying history at Swarthmore College, Moritz Fuchs, a priest in the diocese of Syracuse, introduced me to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. For years he had kept her books in his lending library, and stacks of her paper in the back of his church in the farmlands of central New York. At a penny a copy, it had to be the best bargain on the reading rack. Easily it was the most impressive in appearance, with Fritz Eichenberg's wood engravings and Ade Bethune's drawings of worker-saints. It became apparent to me that historians of journalism have been slow to perceive the significance of the Catholic Worker, a remarkably long-lived, editorially consistent, and influential publication among the ranks of the advocacy press. And few have recognized how important the journalistic vocation was to Dorothy Day, who was a primary force behind the Catholic Worker movement and its paper.

I am deeply grateful to Edwin Emery, Sara Evans, and George Hage, my teachers at the University of Minnesota, who encouraged me and helped me define my interest in this subject. They have been models not only of intellectual achievement but of graciousness and good humor.

I also account my indebtedness to William D. Miller, Marquette University professor emeritus, the pioneering historian of the Catholic Worker movement. The collection of Dorothy Day's journals he is now editing will be yet another contribution to Catholic Worker history. I thank him in particular for sharing helpful information and responding to my questions.

Through association with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, many have been inspired to strive to build a world "in which it will be easier for people to be good." Among them, I am especially grateful to Fritz Eichenberg, Ade Bethune, Joe and Mary Alice Zarrella, Monica and Tom Cornell, Florence Weinfurter, Nina Polcyn Moore, Frank Gorgen, Peggy Scherer, Sharon Wilson, Frank Donovan, and Lee LeCuyer, who patiently answered my questions about their experiences at the Worker. Thanks are also due Sister Peter Claver, the Rev. John J. Hugo of the Pittsburgh Diocese and Marc H. Ellis, Director of the Institute for Justice and Peace, Maryknoll School of Theology, who clarified certain points of Catholic Worker history.

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