Get to know Dorothy Day

She was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. As a young girl, she had experienced the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which gave her a strong heart for helping those in need.

When her father, a journalist, lost his job as a result of the earthquake, Day moved with her family to live in Chicago in tenement housing, a tight and uncomfortable living space. While feeling the shame of defeat during this transition, her love for helping those on the margins of society grew even more.

Day grew to be a well-known journalist and social activist. She was willing to be jailed many times throughout her life for participating in peaceful rallies for peace, women’s right to vote, and other human rights issues.

Day’s love for God fueled all her work, for God had served as her pillar of strength after many personal struggles. Prior to her conversion to the Catholic Church, she had an abortion at the insistence of her lover, who left her anyway. She became involved with biologist and anarchist Forster Batterham, with whom she lived, and welcomed a daughter, Tamar Therese. Tamar’s baptism in the Church spurred her own conversion.

During the Great Depression (1929-1939) the need for food, clothing, and shelter for the homeless population threatened to overwhelm existing resources of churches, charities, and government. In response to this crisis, Day and her followers opened houses of hospitality to minister to the homeless.

Today, more than 245 houses worldwide are modeled after the example of Dorothy Day. Most houses survive on donations and volunteers. Dorothy Day once wrote, “What we do is very little, but it’s like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest.”

Dorothy Day served all she possibly could, without discrimination of any kind. She exemplified what she wrote: “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.

Dorothy Day wrote, “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. Each one of our thoughts, words, and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”