Historic, but not famous

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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Historic, but not famous

Craig Rodwell, activist, bookstore owner

Craig L. Rodwell (1940 – 1993) was a gay rights activist known for founding the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967, the first bookstore in the United States devoted to gay and lesbian authors. He was one of the founders of the Pride Celebration in New York City and at the forefront of the movement in the early 1960’s.

Mr. Rockwell grew up in Chicago, moved to Boston after high school to study ballet and ended up in New York City in 1958. It was in New York that he first volunteered for a gay rights organization, The Mattachine Society of New York. When Rodwell opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967, Harvey Milk, a former relationship,  dropped by frequently, and after moving to San Francisco Milk expressed his intention of opening a similar store “as a way of getting involved in community work.”  Rodwell’s bookshop had become a community gathering place in Greenwich Village.

Sip In at Julius’

Rodwell led a group at the Stone Wall Riots, produced newsletters and magazines for the homosexual population and was a loud voice in the gay rights movement who refused to use a pseudonym like many other activist in the movement. He led protests against the military for excluding homosexuals, a protest at the United Nations against Cuban detention and placement into workcamps of gays, and a Sip In at Julius’ to protest the (NY) State Liquor Authority rule against the congregation of gays in establishments that served alcohol.

Rodwell was the recipient of the 1992 Lambda Literary Award for Publisher’s Service. In March 1993, he sold his bookshop to Bill Offenbaker.  Mr. Rodwell died on June 18, 1993 of stomach cancer.

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Historic, but not famous

Judith Malina, living theater co-founder

Judith Malina co-founded the Living Theater with her husband in 1947 and they remained at the forefront of stage experimentation in the 1950s and 1960s. They were an integral part of the “Counter-culture” of the time. She was only 21 when they started the theater. She had studied acting and directing and remained involved in both throughout her life.

Ms. Malina was born in Kiel, a port city in northern Germany, on June 4, 1926. The family moved to New York City when she was very young. She met Mr. Beck in 1943, when she was just 17, and together they attended the theater, visited museums and read modernist writers like Joyce, Pound and Cocteau. Ms. Malina worked as a singing waitress in a Greenwich Village bar and eventually enrolled in Piscator’s workshop at the New School for Social Research.

Ms. Malina was arrested multiple times for various offenses large and small,  and the theater was evicted from various spaces throughout NYC. They brought productions to multiple countries. She published books on her experiences with the theater which are still available. The Living Theater is the oldest experimental theater group in the United States. They still perform in NYC, continuing in the ideals of Ms. Malina (died 2015) and Mr. Beck (1995).

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Historic, but not famous

Iris De La Cruz, AIDS activist

https://www.visualaids.org/blog/detail/spectres-of-iris-de-la-cruzIris De La Cruz helped found a support group for prostitutes and after she became infected with the AIDS virus, she started several groups for people like her. She started the first support group for positive women and another for hetero singles. She confronted people who looked at her struggle with drugs and prostitution and finally with AIDS as shameful and telling them she was not ashamed. She fought the stigma of AIDS, her body weakened but her spirit and humor never waned.  She was an inspiration to so many people.

She did a lot in the short time she was alive,  working with Life Force, women educating women, and wrote a column for people with AIDS a newsline called ‘KOOL AIDS WITH ICE.”  It was a humorous assault which flirted with the bizarre.  Her writings were filled with salty memories of street life and practical (if weird) advice on living with the illness.  She produced political and educational materials and became a widely sought after public speaker.

Ms. De La Cruz inspired Iris House, a non-profit that works with HIV+ women (and some men) offering support and resources to live with their positive status. In 2017, Iris house celebrated its 25th anniversary. (They always accept donations).

Iris died at the age of 37 in 1991. Her memory lives on in the many lives she changed and her will to make sure underserved people had the information and care they needed.

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