“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found the answer is community”[1]



Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 8, 1897 to Grace and John Day. She joined her two older brothers, Donald and Sam Houston, and later came Della and John. Dorothy’s father, a sports writer, moved the family to Oakland, California when she was six years old. After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, John unfortunately lost his job; the family moved again, this time to Chicago. Dorothy grew up in a caring, middle-class home where she studied frequently and loved to read. When some members of the Episcopal Church convinced Dorothy’s mother to put her sons in the choir, Dorothy became interested in religion. She loved the church services and the singing and later studied catechism so she could be baptized and confirmed. Later, because of her diligence in reading and studying, she received a scholarship to attend the University of Illinois. While in college, Dorothy found interest in journalism while she wrote for a local paper. She consistently observed the lives of the rich and the poor and the disparity between the classes. Subsequently she rejected organized religion because she did not see how it changed the social order of the world. She was poor and continued to work at odd jobs. Dorothy’s family eventually moved to New York where she got a job with a socialist newspaper, The New York Call. Unsure where her passion was, Dorothy had relationships with many men. She became pregnant but had an abortion as she feared the man she truly loved would leave her. And he did. Following this failed relationship, she went to Europe, New Orleans, and California. She did not find true happiness until she bought a bungalow on Staten Island to do what she loved most: write. She found peace in her relationship with her work and with the love of her life, Forster Battingham. Dorothy led a simple existence and prayer played a more important role in her life. Unfortunately, her interest in religion drove a wedge between her and Forster. Dorothy found herself pregnant for the second time, but Forster did not believe in bringing children into the world. She knew if she embraced religion for herself and her child that Forster would not be supportive nor help to raise their child. When her daughter, Tamar, was born, Dorothy had her baptized in the Catholic Church. With Forster out of the picture, Dorothy was baptized again, this time as a Catholic. She and Tamar traveled to California and then to Mexico to continue her writing career. At the start of the Great Depression, Tamar contracted malaria, and they went back to New York. When she returned, Peter Maurin, one of the most influential people in her life was waiting for her. He influenced her desire to continue deeper studies in Catholicism and encouraged her to start her own newspaper called The Catholic Worker. Eventually she opened houses for the poor and abused, and together they started to the Catholic Worker Movement that protested injustice and violence of any kind. She faced adversity and criticism but fought for her beliefs with both peace and tenacity. Dorothy had many health problems toward the end of her life and she died with her daughter, Tamar, at her side on November 29, 1980.

Challenge Discussion

One of Dorothy Day’s main practices was family, but not just family in the traditional sense of the word. She became a mother figure to not just her own child, but to many poor and homeless people all over the country. With this family came personal and institutional challenges. Dorothy Day had an abortion at a young age during a period of her life that she described as “bohemian.”[2] She had many partners and became pregnant. In an attempt to conceal her pregnancy from her then partner, she had an abortion, only for her love to leave her anyway. It was a terrible experience for Dorothy. She said, “I had an abortion. The doctor was fat, dirty and furtive. He left hastily after it was accomplished, leaving me bleeding. The daughter of the landlords assisted me and never said a word of it.”[3] Fortunately for Dorothy, her abortion did not leave her barren like she was told it might. “I felt that my home was not a home without a child. For a long time I had thought that I could not have a child. No matter how much one is loved or one loves, that love is lonely without a child. It is incomplete. Soon I became pregnant again. I saw this as a miracle from God because I thought that He had left me barren after the abortion.”[4] She was able to get pregnant by Forster Battingham. About her pregnancy she said, “I will never forget my blissful joy when I was first sure that I was pregnant.”[5] Forster did not believe in marriage or in bringing children into the world and in a short amount of time, Forster was out of her life as well. Dorothy chose Tamar over herself and being with Forster, one of her largest personal challenges. She always wanted a child since her first pregnancy and abortion and felt that she was prepared to be a mother. Being a good mother to Tamar was more important to her than being with Forster. Dorothy had to deal with the pressures of making a family for her daughter, Tamar, when she had already aborted one baby. The pressures
Dorothy Day and her daughter, Tamar.
for Dorothy to steer away from family and religion was strong; yet, she prevailed against the pressures of those she loved and raised Tamar in the way that was best for her and ultimately for her baby. She knew she could not raise a baby with someone who did not feel the way she did about raising a family in the church and that it would only effect Tamar negatively. She learned from having an abortion that she wanted a child so badly and that she wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that again.
Dorothy Day lived an unconventional Catholic life. She wasn’t raised in the Catholic church, and it ultimately took welcoming her daughter into the world that allowed her to fully open up to faith. Institutionally, the Catholic Church does not believe in all the same things as Dorothy Day once did, such as her abortion when she was a young adult. One of the inspiring things about Dorothy Day is that while she had an abortion, she was able to be welcomed into the Catholic faith, was baptized and went on to not only raise her daughter as a Catholic, but help and welcome other people into the Catholic faith as well through her help of the poor. She said after her baby was born, “I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered. I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to the Church would give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of the Saints then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic.”[6] She had to face the institutional pressures of the church but also of society as she aborted one child and then gave birth to another and raised her daughter alone. She had a child out of wedlock and did not even stay in a common law marriage with Forster. Socially, this was looked down upon yet that did not stop Dorothy from living a good Catholic life. She helped the poor and homeless find their voice and stand up for their rights. She wanted to make a difference for them through peaceful protesting and housing the homeless in her home and all around the city. Despite her earlier missteps, she was able to be a mother to Tamar, while also serving as a mother figure for many others.


Dorothy Day displayed the virtue of perseverance. Dorothy was not afraid to confront the challenges she faced in early years later on in life. She had the courage to stand up to the people who did not believe in her ability to be a Catholic, to be a mother, and to be a public figure and who spoke on behalf of the poor. She persevered through the action of helping others, never letting discouragement get the best of her. She continued to push forward even when the church did not always agree with her pacifist stance. She continued to teach her daughter, and all those who believed in her, the way of loving kindness for all different types of people. She loved people regardless of who they were or where they came from. She wanted to help all people regardless of their religious or political beliefs. She treated people with respect even when they did not respect her. She believed in justice and the ability for all people to have equal rights, whether that be in Christianity or the social structure of the world.

Choice-worthy Good

Dorothy Day was a bold and independent woman who always put others before herself. She chose the best life for her daughter, despite that knowing it was unconventional and undesirable for her to be alone. She went out of her way to make a better life for others, even strangers. Through the help of Peter Maurin, she began a newspaper, round table discussions and hospitality houses in an attempt to restore the communal aspect of Christianity. Even though she had no money herself, she chose to take others into her home and fight for their rights. The first paper she had printed wiped her of her money, yet she still printed the paper knowing her electricity might be cut off. She led a life of pacifism even in times of war. She welcomed everyone into her home regardless of their religious or political views. She lost followers of her movement yet did not let her beliefs waiver. She organized the community and chose the life of serving others even when it was not the popular choice.

Cultural Ill

The cultural ill that Dorothy Day is fighting against is peace vs. violence, especially in the family. Dorothy Day believed in pacifism, which is why she became very pro-life. During the early parts of the war, Dorothy Day had a hard time getting the Church to agree with her views of pacifism. She was one of the view Catholic voices against World War II. She thought about the families, and how peace keeps families together. She believed in peaceful protesting and accomplishing the things she wanted through caring for others and through words in her writing, rather than through violence. Violence is a problem in society because people see it as a way to fix things and address problems. Dorothy Day tried to get people to steer away from that mentality and welcome the peaceful way of life. She was not afraid to be jailed for her beliefs, but even then would not succumb to violence. Dorothy went out of her way to challenge the institutional norms set up by the government when it was popular to believe in warfare and violence. She lost many followers to her writing when she did not change her viewpoint on pacifism, yet she preserved her view. Today, Dorothy Day’s legacy lives on as the Catholic Worker Movement continues to protest war, injustice, and violence of any kind.

Works Cited
Allaire, James, and Rosemary Broughton. "An Introduction to the Life and Spirituality of Dorothy Day." Catholic Worker Movement. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Brady, Judith Ann. "Dorothy Day: A Love of Fiction and Her Love of the Poor." Religious Education 105.5 (2010): 476-90. Print.
Downes, Lawrence. "The Passion of Dorothy Day." The New York Times. N.p., 19 Mar. 2011. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.
Forest, Jim. "Servant of God Dorothy Day." The Catholic Worker Movement. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013.
Miller, William D. Dorothy Day: A Biography. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982. Print
Lynch, Dan. "Dorothy Day's Pro-Life Memories." Catholic Education Resource Center. N.p., 2002. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
Martin, James. "Dorothy Day and Abortion: A New Conversation Surfaces." America Staging. N.p., 1 July 2011. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
"Ponder These Things in Your Heart." Newspaper Column, Dorothy Day. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
"Quotes by Dorothy Day." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.

  1. ^ "Quotes by Dorothy Day." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
  2. ^ Allaire, James, and Rosemary Broughton. "An Introduction to the Life and Spirituality of Dorothy Day." Catholic Worker Movement. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
  3. ^ Miller, William D. Dorothy Day: A Biography. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982. Print
  4. ^ Martin, James. "Dorothy Day and Abortion: A New Conversation Surfaces." America Staging. N.p., 1 July 2011. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
  5. ^ Allaire, James, and Rosemary Broughton. "An Introduction to the Life and Spirituality of Dorothy Day." Catholic Worker Movement. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.
  6. ^ Martin, James. "Dorothy Day and Abortion: A New Conversation Surfaces." America Staging. N.p., 1 July 2011. Web. 05 Nov. 2013.