People We Like: Dorothy Day


In an effort to recognize the strength of our community and the United States as a whole in tackling this crisis together, we are looking back at inspirational figures that made waves in their own era — making a difference in times of struggle. Today we’re looking to Dorothy Day, an American journalist and social/anti-war activist.

Here are some reasons why we like Dorothy Day:

  • She campaigned for the poor, forsaken, hungry, and homeless.
  • She co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement.

Dorothy was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, to a large family described by a biographer as “solid, patriotic, and middle class.” In 1904, her father worked as a journalist for a San Francisco newspaper. They lived in Oakland, California to accommodate her father’s position until 1906, when an earthquake demolished the newspaper facilities and his job was lost. Her family turned a new leaf and relocated to Chicago for a fresh start.

Day lived a bohemian lifestyle for much of her young life – her parents rarely went to church, though they were married as Episcopalians. In contrast, Day was devout and read the Bible frequently. When she was 10, she began attending the Episcopal Church of our Savior. She was taken in by its atmosphere and was baptized and confirmed there in 1911.

As she grew, she developed an expansive knowledge of poverty, anarchy, and social work by reading literary classics. She had an instant passion for these topics and attempted to carry this out through schooling at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the end, she didn’t feel that this was a great fit and left for New York City.

It was there that she found positions that aligned with her interests; she worked for several Socialist publishers, like The Liberator, The Masses, and The Call. She participated in strikes – one of which she was arrested for. She had an early release after going on a hunger strike for ten days. Day was impassioned, motivated, and pledged to solidifying her beliefs in a way that would benefit the causes she cared about. She formally rededicated herself to religion – this time, to Catholicism, and after attending a Catholic Sister, she underwent a conditional baptism in the Catholic Church in 1927.

Day’s social work grew to the extent that she founded the Catholic Worker Movement alongside Peter Maurin, a French Catholic social activist and theologist. They sold pamphlets to “those who [thought] there [was] no future,” and encouraged them to consider the Catholic Church’s social program for their spiritual and material welfare. By combining her interests – faith and campaigning for the unfortunate – Day was able to help create a strong and lasting movement.

This momentum continued in 1935, when Day’s movement published a newspaper called the Catholic Worker. It served to educate both intellectuals and ordinary people facing social injustice. As a writer and editor of the newspaper, she better defined the work the movement could perform. Day and others then began to meet direct needs, aiding in blurring social distinctions and re-shaping perceptions of the poor. The movement’s cause alongside Day’s advocacy journalism in the newspaper was effective enough that it circulated in the US, Canada, and the UK.

In 1935, Day helped to create a newspaper called the Catholic Worker that served to educate both intellectuals and ordinary people facing social injustice. As a writer and editor of the newspaper, she was able to shape and define the Catholic Worker Movement. In conjunction with the newspaper, Dorothy and others began to meet direct needs, which aided in blurring social distinctions and re-shaping perceptions of the poor. The movement’s cause alongside Day’s advocacy journalism in the newspaper was effective enough that it circulated in the US, Canada, and the UK.

In recognition of Day’s steadfast beliefs, the movement was renamed “Dorothy’s Place.” Today, her movement, now a foundation established in California, has service teams comprised of health care and social work professionals dedicated to placing people into permanent housing. Dorothy’s Place also offers full services like twice-daily meals, hygiene products, and safe day shelter. To this day, Dorothy Day’s cause is benefitting others.

To learn more about Dorothy and her movement, click here.



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