Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker founder

Dorothy Day (1897 – 1980) was an American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert born in Brooklyn. Day initially lived a bohemian lifestyle before gaining fame as a social activist after her conversion. She later became a key figure in the Catholic Worker Movement and earned a national reputation as a political radical.

Day was an active journalist and wrote about her social activism. She was a suffragette, arrested many times for her activism and practiced civil disobedience. She established the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that combines direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf in the 1930s. She co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933, and served as its editor from 1933 until her death in 1980. In this newspaper, Day advocated the Catholic economic theory of distributism, which she considered a third way between capitalism and socialism. She was mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI as an example of conversion in a secularized time.

Ms. Day started her journalism career on the She settled on the Lower East Side and worked on the staff of several Socialist publications, including The Liberator, The Masses, and The Call.  She spent time in Greenwich Village with playwright Eugene O’Neill and radical writer Mike Gold. She had a variety of lovers and became pregnant. During that time, she became devoutly Catholic and insisted on having her child baptized, causing a rift between her and the child’s father.

The Catholic Worker movement started when the first issue of the Catholic Worker appeared on May 1, 1933, priced at one cent. It was aimed at those suffering the most in the depths of the Great Depression, “those who think there is no hope for the future”, and announced to them that “the Catholic Church has a social program…there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.” It accepted no advertising and did not pay its staff.

She was active in social causes and the Catholic church until her death of a heart attack in 1980 in Manhattan. She had visited India and Russia and workers, priests and popes during her lifetime and remained committed to helping the disadvantaged.

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