The wisdom of dorothy day

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Walter G. Moss

Copyright © 2011 by Walter G. Moss

TABLE OF CONTENTS (with links)

Colman McCarthy, “New Fan of Dorothy Day Neglects Her Values—Catholic Worker Movement and George W. Bush,” National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2001, (All web sites referred to in this essay were accessed in July-August 2011). 3

The Long Life of Dorothy Day, 1897-1980 4

Childhood and Pre-College Years 4

University of Illinois, 1914-1916 8

Back in New York, 1916-1920 9

Chicago, New Orleans, Staten Island, a Daughter, and Conversion, 1921-1927 14

Tamar, Forester, and the Searching Catholic, 1928-1932 18

Peter Maurin and the Origin of the Catholic Worker Movement, 1933 22

Foundations of the CW Movement: The French, the Saints, and the Popes 24

Foundations of the CW Movement: The Distributists and Russian Writers 30

From Depression to War 33

The Cold War Years 36

Dorothy Day’s Wisdom 44

Wisdom, Religion, and Catholicism 45

Wisdom, Love, and Other Values 46

Personality and Gender 51

Beauty, Nature, Music, Literature, and Transcendence 54

Pacifism, Society, and Politics 60

Conclusion and Legacy 68

In his Audacity of Hope (2006) future President Barack Obama wrote, “Surely, secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square; Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.—indeed the majority of great reformers in American history—not only were motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue their causes.”1 In an important speech before religious leaders in June 2006, he again named these five “great reformers”—four men and Dorothy Day—who were motivated by faith.

More surprisingly, five years earlier President George W. Bush had quoted Dorothy Day. The National Catholic Reporter commented as follows:
Now that George W. Bush is quoting pacifist-anarchist-jailbird-agitator-nonvoter-Karl Marx sympathizer Dorothy Day –“Any effective war on poverty must deploy what Dorothy Day called ‘the weapons of spirit,’” the president said at Notre Dame's May 20 commencement—he might want to invite to the White House some followers of the Catholic Worker co-founder.

These troublemakers shouldn't be hard to find. No other religious group has a service ministry closer to the Oval Office.

Members of Washington's Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house of hospitality regularly pull up a van at Lafayette Park facing the White House to distribute sandwiches to the hungry. Instead of a war on poverty, they think there's a war on poor people.2
Shortly before President Bush’s remarks, New York’s Cardinal John O’Conner wrote in a column of March 16, 2000 that the Vatican in Rome had approved his request “to open the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of Dorothy Day”—that is, to consider whether or not to declare her a Catholic saint.3

In a 1993 an essay on gender and wisdom, two researchers exploring their subject selected only one person to examine in detail—Dorothy Day, as “an extraordinary 20th-century political reformer and religious figure, whose life demonstrates both her wisdom and the gender-specific struggles that shaped its development.”4 The relationship of religion to wisdom is complex, and both believers and non-believers can be wise or foolish, but faith can certainly affect wisdom.5 In the present essay, after surveying Day’s life, we shall look more closely at her developing wisdom and how it was influenced by her being a woman and a Catholic.
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