Dorothy Day was born in New York in 1897 and grew up in Chicago. She went to university in Illinois and there began looking into radical social politics, eventually dropping out and moving to New York to work for a socialist paper called ‘The Call’. In 1917 she was arrested for protesting outside the Whitehouse about women’s exclusion from the right to vote.
Her religious conviction began to grow and she felt a fascination for the Catholic Church. In 1927 she became pregnant with her partner Forster Batterham, which was a great source of joy to her as she had felt that an abortion she had had some years earlier had left her unable to conceive. On the 3rd of March 1927 she gave birth to Tamar Theresa Day, and the child was baptised into the Catholic Church, at which point her relationship with Batterham ended and Day began a journey of bringing together her radical politics and her faith. This conflict came to a head when she felt unable to attend a march protesting high unemployement as it was organised by The Communist Party, who hated religion.
The following day, she met Peter Maurin who lived a Fransiscan lifestyle, and encouraged her to start up a paper looking at social justice issues and Catholicism, resulting in ‘The Catholic Worker’ which took the side of labour unions in the struggles of the time (during the depression) and combined radical politics with religious faith.
The Catholic Worker soon became more than a newspaper, as homeless people began to ask them for help Day and Maurin began to live ou the ancient Christian virtue of hospitality, renting apartment for poor men and women and forming community. The Catholic Worker soon became a movement with houses of hospitality forming all over America, which were much needed in the Great Depression.
Day herself described the importance of their work saying that, “The class structure is our making and by our consent, not God's, and we must do what we can to change it. We are urging revolutionary change”. The Catholic Worker also formed farming communes in this period.
But Day was not just committed to providing for the poor, she was also a committed pacifist who opposed America’s involvement in WW2 and when the Catholic Worker refused to support the catholic troups in the Spanish Civil war they lost a lot of their readers. The movements pacifism was also key in the Cold War, protesting against the civil drills all citizens had to take part in, saying that, “In the name of Jesus, who is God, who is Love, we will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. We will not be drilled into fear. We do not have faith in God if we depend upon the Atom Bomb.” Day and others were arrested several times for these protests.
Many consider Day to have been a saint, but she herself said, “Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.” Her legacy in the Catholic Worker Movement lives on, with communities formed all over the world committed to non-violence and hospitality, while campaigning for justice and against war.