Dorothy Day: A Lifetime of Serving God

Updated on February 12, 2019
L.M. Hosler profile image

Linda enjoys reading, learning and writing about different things. She enjoys sharing her love of writing and history with others.

A Young Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day as a young woman
Dorothy Day as a young woman | Source

Dorothy’s Early Years

Dorothy Day was born as one of five children to John and Grace Day in Brooklyn, New York on November 8,1897. Her father was a sports writer and later became a sports editor. A few years after Dorothy’s birth, he moved the family to San Francisco, California to take a better job. The Days family lived in California until the Great Earthquake in 1906 which destroyed her father’s place of employment. Before they left California, Dorothy and her mother tried to help those who had been left homeless from the earthquake. The Day family then moved to Chicago, Illinois and lived in one of the poorer sections of Chicago until her Father found work that allowed him to move his family to a better neighborhood. Dorothy never seemed to forget what it was like to be poor and perhaps that is what led her to make the choice of helping the poor and less fortunate.

College Years

While still living in Chicago, Dorothy won a scholarship which allowed her to go to The University of Illinois and she attended there for two years from 1914 until 1916. Dorothy loved reading and learning and she especially enjoyed reading the works of Dickens and Poe as well as others. It was at the university that her journalistic career began when she went to work for a small local paper. The friends she chose while in college were generally socialists who influenced her to join the Socialist Party. With her friends, she became involved with radical causes concerning poor working people.

New York Reporter

Two years later, she gave up her studies at the university and moved to New York. She was just eighteen years old at the time. Here she found her first real job as a reporter working for the New York Call where she worked for a few months before leaving The Call to work for The Masses. As a reporter she covered labor meetings, protests and riots as well as other social causes. Here in New York, she made friends with other journalists, liberals, socialists, labor collaborators and communist that she met through her work. During this time, Dorothy was like most young women, enjoying life, her first relationships with men, and love. She also became pregnant during this time period and she chose to have an abortion rather than raise the child

Occoquan Prison

While working as a reporter for The Masses, Dorothy traveled to Washington, DC to join with a women’s suffrage protest organized by Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and The National Women’s Party. As a result, Dorothy and several of the other women were arrested and spent several weeks in jail Dorothy asked for and was given a Bible which she took much comfort from. After being arrested and sentenced to thirty days in jail, Dorothy and the other women went on a hunger strike which drew the attention of President Woodrow Wilson who ordered the women to be released from jail. Later these women dubbed their time in the Occoquan Prison as “The Night of Terror”.

Women Picketing the White House Are Arrested

Women picketing outside of the White House and were arrested and sentenced to jail time
Women picketing outside of the White House and were arrested and sentenced to jail time | Source

Love and Heartbreak

In 1918, Dorothy thought it was time to look for a possible new career and tried nursing by enrolling at Kings County Hospital in New York. It was while she was in nurse’s training that she met and fell in love with a fellow newspaper associate, Lionel Moise. She became pregnant with his baby which he insisted that she abort, so in an attempt to keep the man she thought she loved she had the abortion. She was only 21 at the time. Dorothy often stated how deeply she regretted making that decision because within a short period of time Lionel had walked out and left her anyway.

After Lionel walked out Dorothy was heartbroken and she married Berkely Tobey on the rebound. The two of them traveled for some time together but the marriage was a brief one and ended in divorce shortly afterwards. After divorcing Berkely Tobey, Dorothy entered into a relationship with Forster Batterham for several years and became pregnant for the second time. To Dorothy, this was a miracle because she had believed that she could not have children after having the abortion. She gave birth to a daughter she named Tamar Theresa on March 4, 1926. This was the beginning of the end of her relationship with Forster who had not wanted either marriage or children and soon after the two went their separate ways.

The Beginning of a Lifetime of Service

Between 1932 and 1933, Dorothy met Peter Maurin an illegal immigrant who was also a scholar with leanings toward the catholic faith. On May 1, 1933 the two of them published their first issue of The Catholic Worker and began focusing on their mission of promoting Biblical teachings, morals, mercy and justice, which was also committed to forming a nonviolence , peaceful society. Together these two would work for social change, better working conditions for workers and help and comfort for the poor.

Achievements of Dorothy and Peter

  1. Started the newspaper (The Catholic Worker0
  2. Opened the first House of Hospitality in 1933
  3. Started farming communes for people in need who could live on the commune and help to raise food and animals to meet their needs

Peter Maurin Co-Founder of the Worker's Catholic Movement

Peter Maurin, Dorothy close friend and so-founder of the Catholic Worker's Movement
Peter Maurin, Dorothy close friend and so-founder of the Catholic Worker's Movement | Source

Books Written by Dorothy Day

  1. The Eleventh Virgin
  2. From Union Square to Rome
  3. House of Hospitality
  4. On Pilgrimage
  5. The Long Loneliness
  6. Selected Writings
  7. Loaves and Fishes
  8. The Reckless Way of Love (notes on following Jesus)
  9. The Duty of Delight
  10. All the way to Heaven
  11. Peter Maurin Apostle to the World
  12. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker
  13. Meditations
  14. In My Own Words

This is a short list of the books that Dorothy Day wrote. She also wrote over three hundred articles for various newspapers that she worked for over her lifetime. Many of her books are books of faith and stories of how she spent her lifetime and her faith in service to others.

Dorothy Day Honors

Dorothy achieved so much that it is hard to comprehend everything this woman did but this is a short list of some of the most memorable events of her life.

  • Dorothy had the honor of meeting Mother Teresa in 1970 I believe that Mother Theresa gave Dorothy one of her crosses
  • Received Communion with the Pope 1967
  • Received birthday wishes from the Pope on her 80th birthday in 1977
  • University of Notre Dame honored her with the Laetare Medal which is given for outstanding service to the Catholic church and society

This is only a few of the achievements and honors that Dorothy received during her lifetime

In Conclusion

Dorothy Day was a determined and courageous woman who found her faith and her strength in the Catholic Church. Upon finding her faith, she worked hard and tirelessly for the poor. She gave more of herself than most of us are capable of. She was jailed several times in her efforts to help women fight for their rights in addition to other causes that she felt strongly about. She spent most of her adult life serving her God, her church and her fellow human beings. Let us all strive a bit harder to be more like Dorothy Day and make the world a better place. A world more like Dorothy Day's vision of caring and loving our fellow human beings.

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    © 2019 L.M. Hosler

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