The social activist Dorothy Day has been called the most important lay person in the history of American Catholicism. She was born the third of five children to John Day and the former Grace Satterlee. Her father, an agnostic newspaperman, was a reserved Republican who provided little warmth for his children. Her mother, an occasional Episcopalian, similarly offered little affection, though Day’s home life seems to have been reasonably happy. The family moved from Brooklyn to Berkeley, California, in 1903, then to Chicago following the 1906 earthquake. Day grew up in Chicago, and in 1914 she entered the University of Illinois on a Hearst scholarship of three hundred dollars. She had acquired political opinions by that time, many of them derived from Peter Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899) and Jack London’s books. Probably the greatest influence on her was The Jungle (1906), Upton Sinclair’s novel of the meat-packing industry in Chicago, for she was able to observe firsthand many of the conditions he described.
In 1916, she and her family moved to New York, where she pursued a journalistic career with various left-wing magazines, beginning with the socialist Call. She moved on to Masses, a communist journal run by Max Eastman, which was shut down after the United States entered World War I in April, 1917. By that time, Day had been arrested (the first of a dozen times) for picketing the White House with other suffragists; she spent a scarring month in prison. During most of the war, she worked as a nurse. For one year, during a brief marriage, she lived in Europe. There, she wrote the novel The Eleventh Virgin, which was later sold to Hollywood and enabled her to purchase a cottage on Staten Island. She entered a common-law marriage with Forster Batterham in 1924 and spent four happy years with him; they had a daughter, Tamar Teresa, in 1927.
The birth of her daughter caused a spiritual crisis...
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