Dorothy Day was born November 8, 1897 in Brooklyn, NY. Because of her father's job as a journalist, the family moved many times eventually settling in Chicago. After two years at the University of Illinois, Dorothy moved to New York City to become a journalist. Dorothy lived a rather racy bohemian life style in the roaring twenties.
With the proceeds from a novel she wrote, Dorothy Day purchased a beach cottage in a community known as Spanish Camp on Raritan Bay on Staten Island. Day lived there with her common-law husband, Forster Batterham with whom she had a child-Tamar. During her pregnancy and after the birth of Tamar, Dorothy felt the need to worship. Forster was able to reconcile himself to Dorothy having Tamar baptized a Catholic but could not accept Dorothy’s desire to become a Catholic. Thus, their relationship ended.
After her conversion to Catholicism, Dorothy devoted the rest of her life to serving the poor and the homeless. With Peter Maurin, she started the Catholic Worker Newspaper. Out of it grew the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy Day is considered one of the most important social thinkers of the 20th century. She went from cutting religion out of her life to making religion the core of her life. This teacher of non-violence and friend to all endured many stays in jail because of her work to promote social, economic and political justice. She inspired and moved many to action. She still does. Her legacy lives on in over 180 Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality around the world protesting injustice and violence in all forms.
In 1997, John Cardinal O’Connor presented Day’s cause for sainthood to the Vatican. She is now Servant of God.
In 1998, I went on a pilgrimage to Dorothy Day with Pax Christi, S.I.N.Y. We visited Spanish Camp, specifically a bungalow owned by the Catholic Worker, where Dorothy spent much time with Tamar walking the beach, writing and visiting with friends. It was an incredible feeling to be in her kitchen, standing at the window where Dorothy looked out at the waves hitting the beach. I felt gratitude and a strong connection to Dorothy.
Unfortunately, the people who lived in Spanish Camp owned the cottages, not the land they were built on. The descendants of Sociedad Natura Hispana-the founder of the camp-sold the land to a developer. There was an unsuccessful movement to preserve the cottage.
We visited Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Tottenville, Staten Island, where Dorothy and her daughter, Tamar were baptized. We then went to Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island and held a prayer service around her grave. The inscription on her simple grave stone reads, “Deo Gratis.”
Afterward, we all went to the home of one of the members of Pax Christi for a barbecue. It wouldn’t be a gathering for Dorothy Day without offering food!