Dorothy Day was born in 1897 and died in 1980. She was an American Catholic social activist. Dorothy Day lived a life of radical commitment to the gospel. As a convert to Catholicism, she loved the church deeply but challenged the church to take its own message seriously. Her spirit of nonviolence and care for the poorest of the poor led her from involvement in socialism to the development of her own particular form of radical Catholicism. Her vision induced her to found the Catholic Worker movement, which survives to this day in over 120 communities across the United States.
Born in a journalist home, Day followed her father and became a journalist herself, working for several radical papers, especially The Liberator. After several affairs, an abortion, and a brief marriage, Dorothy found herself pregnant again and decided to keep the child, a daughter, Tamar, born in 1927. Motherhood caused Dorothy to think seriously about religion. Tamar was baptized over the objections of the child's atheist father. When Dorothy was baptized as a Roman Catholic later that year, the father left her. In 1933 she joined with Peter Maurin, a Christian Brother, and together they became a team for social change. Beginning with the newspaper The Catholic Worker, they moved on to found Houses of Hospitality where those who needed a place to stay were welcome. Although they began in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City, these houses were established in many cities, nearly always in the poorest areas.
Faith was a constant struggle for her, and while she titled her autobiography The Long Loneliness, she was haunted by God from childhood until her death.
[Excerpted with permission from the entry on Dorothy Day by Howard L. Rice The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books®. All rights reserved.]
Image is detail of Photo Taken by Vivian Cherry (born 1920). From Women Of Our Time: Twentieth-Century Photographs from the National Portrait Gallery, George Bush Presidential Library. Administered by the United States National Archives and Records Administration.