Dorothy Day

American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert (1897-1980)

Dorothy Day (8 November 189729 November 1980) was an American journalist turned social activist. A pacifist, anarchist and a devout member of the Catholic Church, she advocated distributism and was a co-founder, with Peter Maurin, of the Catholic Worker movement. She authored several books and spoke often in public about faith and social justice.

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?


The absolutist begins a work, others take it up and try to spread it. Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.
Our rule is the works of mercy… It is the way of sacrifice, worship, a sense of reverence.
We stand at the present time with the Communists, who are also opposing war.... The Sermon on the Mount is our Christian manifesto.
We are not expecting Utopia here on this earth. But God meant things to be much easier than we have made them. … Eternal life begins now. The cross is there, of course, but "in the cross is joy of spirit." And love makes all things easy.
  • It is only through religion that communism can be achieved, and has been achieved over and over.
    • From Union Square to Rome (1938)
  • We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.
    • The Long Loneliness (1952), p. 286
  • Now the creed to which I subscribe is like a battle cry, engraved on my heart - the Credo of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Before, in those former times, I could say, "I shall sleep in the dust: and if thou seek me in the morning, I shall not be" (Job 7:21). Now I can say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see God. Whom I myself shall see and my eyes shall behold, and not another: this my hope is laid up in my bosom" (Job 19:25-27).
    • From Union Square to Rome (1938), p. 145
  • A Jewish convert said to me once, "The Communists hate God, and the Catholics love Him. But they are both facing Him, directing their attention to Him. They are not indifferent. Communists are not in so bad a case as those who are indifferent. It is the lukewarm that He will spew out of His mouth."
    • From Union Square to Rome (1938)
  • The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.
    • Catholic Worker (April 1964)
  • We stand at the present time with the Communists, who are also opposing war.... The Sermon on the Mount is our Christian manifesto.
    • "Our Stand," Catholic Worker (June 1940)
  • I had a conversation with John Spivak, the Communist writer, a few years ago, and he said to me, "How can you believe? How can you believe in the Immaculate Conception, in the Virgin birth, in the Resurrection?" I could only say that I believe in the Roman Catholic Church and all she teaches. I have accepted Her authority with my whole heart. At the same time I want to point out to you that we are taught to pray for final perseverance. We are taught that faith is a gift, and sometimes I wonder why some have it and some do not. I feel my own unworthiness and can never be grateful enough to God for His gift of faith. St. Paul tells us that if we do not correspond to the graces we receive, they will be withdrawn. So I believe also that we should walk in fear, "work out our salvation in fear and trembling."
    • From Union Square to Rome (1938), pp. 144-45
  • There is now all this patriotic indignation about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Japanese expansionism in Asia. Yet not a word about American and European expansionism in the same area.... We must make a start. We must renounce war as an instrument of policy.... Even as I speak to you I may be guilty of what some men call treason.... You young men should refuse to take up arms. Young women tear down the patriotic posters. And all of you — young and old — put away your flags.
    • Speech to Liberal-Socialist Alliance, New York City (8 December 1941), as quoted in From Megaphones to Microphones (2003) by Sandra J. Sarkela et al.
  • We are not expecting Utopia here on this earth. But God meant things to be much easier than we have made them. A man has a natural right to food, clothing, and shelter. A certain amount of goods is necessary to lead a good life. A family needs work as well as bread. Property is proper to man. We must keep repeating these things. Eternal life begins now. "All the way to heaven is heaven, because He said, "I am the Way." The cross is there, of course, but "in the cross is joy of spirit." And love makes all things easy.
    • On Pilgrimage (1948)
  • Of all the charges made against the Communists these days of congressional investigations, the charge of loose morals is seldom heard, so very loose have become those of "Christian" people.
    • On Pilgrimage (1948)
  • Often we comfort ourselves only with words, but if we pray enough, the conviction will come too that Christ is our King, not Stalin, Bevins, or Truman. That He has all things in His hands, that 'all things work together for good for those that love Him.'
    • On Pilgrimage (1948), p. 18
  • My whole life so far, my whole experience has been that our failure has been not to love enough. This conviction brought me to a rejection of the radical movement after my early membership in the Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the Communist affiliates I worked with.
    • On Pilgrimage (1948), p. 126
  • I have been disillusioned, however, this long, long time in the means used by any but the saints to live in this world God has made for us.
    • On Pilgrimage (1948), p. 127
  • Marx... Lenin... Mao Tse-Tung... These men were animated by the love of brother and this we must believe though their ends meant the seizure of power, and the building of mighty armies, the compulsion of concentration camps, the forced labor and torture and killing of tens of thousands, even millions.
    • "The Incompatibility of Love and Violence," Catholic Worker (May 1951)
  • But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor. The class structure is of our making and our consent, not His. It is the way we have arranged it, and it is up to us to change it. So we are urging revolutionary change.
    • "Poverty Is to Care and Not to Care," Catholic Worker (April 1953)
  • We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists 'of conspiring to teach [us] to do,' but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.
    • "On Pilgrimage," Catholic Worker (September 1956)
  • We also know that religion, as the Marxists have always insisted, has, too often, like an opiate, tended to put people to sleep to the reality and the need for the present struggle for peace and justice.
    • "Month of the Dead," Catholic Worker (November 1959)
  • The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?
    • 'Loaves and Fishes (1963)
  • I was always much impressed, in reading prison memoirs of revolutionists, such as Lenin and Trotsky … by the amount of reading they did, the languages they studied, the range of their plans for a better social order. (Or rather, for a new social order.) In the Acts of the Apostles there are constant references to the Way and the New Man.
    • "On Pilgrimage," Catholic Worker (December 1968)
  • If we had had the privilege of giving hospitality to a Ho Chi Minh, with what respect and interest we would have served him, as a man of vision, as a patriot, a rebel against foreign invaders.
    • "On Pilgrimage," Catholic Worker (January 1970)
  • "What do you mean by anarchist-pacifist?" First, I would say that the two words should go together, especially … when more and more people, even priests, are turning to violence, and are finding their heroes in Camillo Torres among the priests, and Che Guevara among laymen. The attraction is strong, because both men literally laid down their lives for their brothers. "Greater love hath no man than this." "Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." Che Guevara wrote this, and he is quoted by Chicano youth in El Grito Del Norte.
    • "On Pilgrimage — Our Spring Appeal," Catholic Worker (May 1970)
  • How many thousands, tens of thousands [of prisoners], are in for petty theft, while the 'robber barons' of our day get away with murder. Literally murder, accessories to murder. "Property is Theft." Proudhon wrote--The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor. The early Fathers wrote--The house you don't live in, your empty buildings (novitiates, seminaries) belong to the poor. Property is Theft.
    • "On Pilgrimage," Catholic Worker (December 1971)
  • The best thing to do with the best things in life is to give them up.
    • Interviewed in Time (29 December 1975)
  • What I want to bring out is how a pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. And each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. Going to jail for distributing leaflets advocating war tax refusal causes a ripple of thought, of conscience among us all. And of remembrance too. …. There may be ever improving standards of living in the U.S., with every worker eventually owning his own home and driving his own car; but our modern economy is based on preparation for war. … The absolutist begins a work, others take it up and try to spread it. Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.
    • As quoted in Women on War : Essential Voices for the Nuclear Age (1988), by Daniela Gioseffi, p. 103
    • Variant: A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There's too much work to do.
      • As quoted in Singing the Living Tradition (1993) by the Unitarian Universalist Association, p. 560
  • Our rule is the works of mercy… It is the way of sacrifice, worship, a sense of reverence.
    • As quoted in The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (1997)
    • Variant: [Practicing] the works of mercy … is our program, our rule of life.
      • As quoted in The Catholic Worker after Dorothy : Practicing the Works of Mercy in a New Generation (2008) by Dan McKanan
  • The great work which is to be done is to change public opinion, to indoctrinate, to set small groups to work here and there in different cities who will live a life of sacrifice, typifying the Catholic idea of personal responsibility. Numbers and organizations are not important. We are just beginning after all. But one person can do a tremendous amount of boring from within, in his office, factory, neighborhood, parish, and among his daily acquaintances and associates.
    • All the Way to Heaven :The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day (2010), p. 81

The Duty of Delight (2011)

I too complain ceaselessly in my heart and in my words too. My very life is a protest. Against government, for instance.
The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day (2011)
  • When people are standing up for our present rotten system, they are being worse than Communists, it seems to me.
    • 4 March 1945
  • When Dr. Stern wanted to know whether I was an alcoholic, when Dwight Macdonald asked me seriously whether I drank longshoremen under the table — I can only confess that yes, I did "fling roses with the throng."
    • 22 April 1958
  • The diocesan papers are full of stories about atrocities in China and the sufferings of the Church and I get a letter from Betty Chang from Tientsin about the communes and the full-employment, etc. When we see the migrant camps, and our factories in the fields, our system does not offer much.
    • 12 February 1959
  • For some weeks now my problem is this: What to do about the open immorality (and of course I mean sexual morality) in our midst. It is like the last times--there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed.... We have one young [prostitute], drunken, promiscuous, pretty as a picture, college educated, mischievous, able to talk her way out of any situation--so far. She comes to us when she is drunk and beaten and hungry and cold and when she is taken in, she is liable to crawl into the bed of any man on the place. We do not know how many she has slept with on the farm. What to do? What to do?
    • 26 June 1971
  • I too complain ceaselessly in my heart and in my words too. My very life is a protest. Against government, for instance.
    • 8 August 1974

"We Go On Record"


In War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar & Peace Writing

  • [atomic bombs are] born not that men might live, but that men might be killed.
  • The papers list the scientists (the murderers) who are credited with perfecting this new weapon.
  • Today's paper with its columns of description of the new era, the atomic era, which this colossal slaughter of the innocents has ushered in, is filled with stories covering every conceivable phase of the new discovery.
  • while here in the western hemisphere, we went in for precision bombing (what chance of precision bombing now?) while we went in for obliteration bombing, Russia was very careful not to bomb cities, to wipe out civilian populations. Perhaps she was thinking of the poor, of the workers, as brothers.
  • Everyone says, "I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?" How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgment, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there!


  • When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a Communist.
    • Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop, as quoted in Peace Behind Bars : A Peacemaking Priest's Journal from Jail (1995) by John Dear, p. 65; this is a translation of "Quando dou comida aos pobres chamam-me de santo. Quando pergunto por que eles são pobres chamam-me de comunista."
    • Variant translations:
    • When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.
    • When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.

Quotes about Day

  • No force could sway her. No fear could stop her.
    • Promotional tagline for Entertaining Angels : The Dorothy Day Story (1996); the title refers to the practice endorsed in the early Christian teachings of Paul of Tarsus, of treating strangers as angels or visiting emissaries of royalty or divinity, as in Hebrews 13:2 : Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
  • Dorothy, the oldest girl, is the nut of the family. When she came out of the university she was a Communist. Now she's a Catholic crusader. She owns and runs a Catholic paper and skyhoots all over the country, delivering lectures. She has one girl in a Catholic school and is separated from her husband.
    • John Day, Sr., describing his daughter Dorothy, as quoted in Dorothy Day: A Biography, (1982) by William D. Miller.
  • Dorothy Day lived a very simple life and believed in nonviolence.

Margaret C. Jones, Heretics and Hellraisers: Women Contributors to The Masses, 1911-1917

  • In Floyd Dell's recollections, the Day of the Masses period was a heedless young freethinker, an adherent of the bohemian lifestyle.
  • Even during her Greenwich Village years, while Day was living what she would later refer to as her "disorderly" life, she was reading Tolstoi and finding herself "thoroughly in sympathy with the Christianity he expressed, the Christianity that dispensed with a church and a priesthood."
  • While in jail for her part in the White House suffrage picketing and on hunger strike, Day began reading the Bible, and found relief in the reading from her intense physical and emotional distress. It was then, Day writes, that she began to think of her political activism in religious terms: "If we had faith in what we were doing, making our protest against brutality and injustice, then we were indeed casting our seeds, and there was promise of the harvest to come. ... I prayed and did not know that I prayed" (Long Loneliness, 78).
  • What Day brought to the Catholic Worker movement-drastically modifying it-were her political radicalism and her interest in active struggle for social justice
  • To be merely a journalistic observer of social injustice, Day considered to help in organizing work, to donate to relief funds, or even to pledge oneself to voluntary poverty for life "so that you can share with your brothers" (and Day did all of these)-was still insufficient. One must live with the needy and oppressed, "share with them their sufferings. Give up one's privacy..." (Long Loneliness, 210).
  • Even the Cuban revolution, which many anarchists regarded with mistrust for the Marxist-Leninist character it gradually assumed over the years Day regarded as a hopeful sign of awakening of popular consciousness, a victory for justice in no way incompatible with Catholic faith. "God bless the priests and people of Cuba," she wrote in 1961. "God bless Castro and all those who are seeing Christ in the poor" (By Little, 298- 302). On the other hand, she well understood the corrupting tendency toward bureaucratic centralism inherent in classic Marxism-Leninism. The rule of the Bolsheviks under Lenin, as Day pointed out, became a dictatorship of the "great mass of dispossessed industrial workers... in name only; it was to become a dictatorship by the elite few, by the members of the party" (Long Loneliness, 84). Nearer to home, she took a stand on the struggles of less radical U.S. workers' organizations. She believed that the right to strike for a better wage was more than merely compatible with Catholic faith-it was "a good impulse-one could even say an inspiration of the Holy Spirit." Strikers were, she considered, "trying to uphold their right to be treated not as slaves, but as men" (By Little, 24).
  • Most uncompromising was Day's informing vision of society's complete and utter dependency on the military-industrial complex. In a modern military state like the U.S., Day considered, there was really no such thing as a "civilian population." Everyone who participated in the economy was implicated in militaristic enterprises, if only as a consumer or a taxpayer: "... so that you are, in effect, helping to support the state's preparations for war exactly to the extent of your attachment to worldly things of whatever kind" (By Little, III). Hence, a life of voluntary poverty for Day represented not only Christian piety, but an essential strategy for diminishing each individual's complicity with the military-industrial nexus.
  • Predictably, Day's views on sexuality became much more conservative after her conversion to Catholicism. As a young woman, Day had attended Emma Goldman's lectures on sexual liberation in Greenwich Village, Even at the time, the older Day claims, she was "revolted by such promiscuity" (57). In 1931, when Goldman's autobiography Living My Life was published, Day actually refused to read Goldman's account of her long series of love affairs, "because I was offended in my sex" (Long Loneliness, 17). Day clearly had no sympathy with or understanding for Goldman's conception of sexual liberation as integral to full political liberation: "Men who are revolutionaries, I thought, do not dally on the side as women do, complicating the issue by an emphasis on the personal" (57). Day later felt deeply ashamed of her only novel, The Eleventh Virgin (1924), an autobiographical account of her early radical years, and actually tried to suppress the novel in the years after her conversion by buying up and destroying copies, until a priest to whom she went to confession pointed out the futility of this enterprise. While very radical in her views on communitarianism, pacifism, and the labor movement, and deeply sympathetic to the left-wing revolutionary movements around the world, Day could be conservative-even reactionary-in her treatment of those who offended her conservative sexual morality.
  • Asked in a 1973 interview on public television what she thought of women's liberation, she responded by talking in the most general of terms about the importance of working for social change through "local politics."
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