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

Lillian Wald, founder Visiting Nurse Service in NYC

Lillian D. Wald (1867 – 1940) was an American nurse, humanitarian and author. She was known for contributions to human rights and was the founder of American community nursing. She founded the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Visiting Nurse Service in the city.  After founding the Henry Street Settlement, she became an activist for the rights of women and minorities. She campaigned for suffrage and was a supporter of racial integration. She was involved in the founding of the NAACP.

Ms. Wald was born in Ohio, but moved to Rochester NY with her family while she was young. She studied hard and applied to Vassar at the age of 16, which they thought was too young to attend. She began to study nursing at New York Hospital’s School of Nursing. She graduated from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1891, then took courses at the Woman’s Medical College.

After graduation, she worked at an orphanage and began teaching nursing skills to poor girls on the Lower East Side and was inspired to move into the community and start the visiting nurse association for the community. She was the first president of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing. Wald established a nursing insurance partnership with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that became a model for many other corporate projects. She suggested a national health insurance plan and helped to found the Columbia University School of Nursing. Wald founded the Henry Street Settlement to assist the aging and poor Jewish population on the Lower East Side with the help of Jacob Schiff.

The New York Times named Wald as one of the 12 greatest living American women in 1922 and she later received the Lincoln Medallion for her work as an “Outstanding Citizen of New York.” In 1937 a radio broadcast celebrated Wald’s 70th birthday, Sara Delano Roosevelt read a letter from her son, President Franklin Roosevelt, in which he praised Wald for her “unselfish labor to promote the happiness and well being of others.” Wald was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1970.The Lillian Wald Houses on Avenue D in Manhattan were named for her.

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Historic, but not famous

Clayton Patterson, artist, photographer, videographer, historian

Clayton Patterson (born 1948) is a Canadian-born artist, photographer, videographer, member of the No! Art movement and folk historian. He moved to New York City in 1979 and focused almost exclusively on documenting the art, life and times of the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

In 1972, his partner, Rensaa gave him his first camera and in 1980 he began photographing life in the Lower East Side of New York City. In 1985, Patterson began photographing kids from the neighborhood in front of his front door. Over the years, he has taken hundreds of photos, and displaying them on his “Hall of Fame” in his storefront window. As more photographs appeared in the window, more kids demanded their photo be taken in front the graffiti covered door.

Kids at the grafitti door for the “Hall of Fame”

His painting and drawing is heavily informed and influenced by tattoo and graffiti culture. Some of his large scale murals have appeared throughout the Lower East Side. From 1980-1982, Patterson’s work was shown in a number of downtown galleries. As Patterson grew disenchanted with the SoHo art world, he distanced himself from the traditional gallery scene and moved deeper into the underground scene of Lower East Side.

In 1983, Patterson and Rensaa bought a two-story former sewing factory and storefront at 161 Essex Street. In 1986 he converted the small storefront into an art gallery and Clayton Cap store. From 1986 to 2003, they showcased a variety of New York artists, writers, neighborhood personalities. The Clayton cap was the first baseball cap to have the embroidery all around the cap, and had the first signature and label on the outside of the cap. An embroidered signature on a repeated design, and a hand signed label for the custom one-of-a-kind designed caps.

A Clayton Cap

In August of 1988, Patterson began taping the Tompkins Square Park incident in full detail. He had come to the area with his video camera to get footage of a band performing at the Pyramid Club across the street from the park, but was pulled away by the police invasion of the park to remove the people living there. His footage from the night’s events (some 3+ hours) became instrumental in exposing police brutality in New York City that was often reported but never videotaped. As a result, the New York District Attorney ordered Patterson to surrender his tapes and camera. Patterson refused the order and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. After a 10-day hunger strike, Patterson’s lawyers negotiated a deal that would allow the city to get a copy of the tape while allowing Patterson the right to keep the original.

Patterson left NYC in 2014 leaving a legacy of over 1/2 million photos, hundreds of thousands of digital photos, thousands of hours of video tape in multiple formats and numerous artworks. You can learn more about him in the documentary Captured from 2008.

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Historic, but not famous

Jacob Schiff, philanthropist

Jacob Henry Schiff (born Jakob Heinrich Schiff; 1847 – 1920) was a Jewish-American banker, businessman, and philanthropist. Among many other things, he helped finance the expansion of American railroads. He was born in Germany and migrated to the United States after the American Civil War and joined the firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co on Wall street. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in September 1870

Mr. Schiff was the most well known and influential Jewish leader from 1880 to 1920 in what later became known as the “Schiff era”, grappling with all major Jewish issues and problems of the day, including the plight of Russian Jews under the Tsar, American and international anti-semitism, care of needy Jewish immigrants, and the rise of Zionism. He led many corporations, including the National City Bank of New York, Equitable Life Assurance Society, Wells Fargo & Company, and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Schiff supported many Jewish charities including relief efforts for the victims of pogroms in Russia, and helped establish and develop Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Division in the New York Public Library, and the American Jewish Committee. In New York examples include the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, of which he was president, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association building and the Jewish Theological Seminary on Broadway and 116th Street. He was also involved with many secular American causes: in addition to serving on the Board of Managers of the New York Zoological Society, the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Fine Arts Society, American Geographical Society, and Barnard College; and a number of other organizations for civil rights and the disadvantaged, such as the American Red Cross, the Nurses’ Settlement (New York) and Tuskegee Institute. In 1895, he purchased a building for use by the Henry Street Settlement in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Henry Street Settlement is a not-for-profit social service agency that provides social services, arts programs and health care services to all New Yorkers of need.

On his 70th birthday, he distributed $700,000 among various charitable organizations and public institutions.  Schiff was actively concerned with the improvement of civic conditions in New York. He was a vice president of the New York Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Committee of 70 which resulted in the overthrow of the Tweed Ring.

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