Day Publishes Her Autobiography, Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness provided a literary mirror of how her struggle to find inner peace through faith and social activism was achieved in the founding of the Catholic Worker movement in 1932. Her views on pacifism, nonviolence, and voluntary poverty advocated social change, and she challenged the Roman Catholic Church to follow its teachings on social reform and justice more closely.

Summary of Event

In The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day, published on January 19, 1952, Catholic Worker movement Catholic Worker movement cofounder Dorothy Day describes her life in three sections revealingly called “Searching,” “Natural Happiness,” and “Love Is the Measure.” Prior to her conversion to Roman Catholicism, Day led a rather bohemian lifestyle. Much of her early life was spent searching for contentment and peace of mind, but it was not until the birth of her daughter Tamar Teresa in 1926 that she truly embraced her faith. In her autobiography, she describes how years of soul-searching and spiritual struggle, combined with her intense longing to provide aid and support—based on Christian faith—to those in need, led to her founding the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin. In The Long Loneliness she also describes the events that brought her to God, strengthened her faith, and enabled her to carry out her beliefs. Long Loneliness, The (Day) Autobiographies Christianity;literature [kw]Day Publishes Her Autobiography, The Long Loneliness (Jan. 19, 1952) [kw]Autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Day Publishes Her (Jan. 19, 1952) [kw]Long Loneliness, Day Publishes Her Autobiography, The (Jan. 19, 1952) Long Loneliness, The (Day) Autobiographies Christianity;literature [g]North America;Jan. 19, 1952: Day Publishes Her Autobiography, The Long Loneliness[03740] [g]United States;Jan. 19, 1952: Day Publishes Her Autobiography, The Long Loneliness[03740] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Jan. 19, 1952: Day Publishes Her Autobiography, The Long Loneliness[03740] [c]Social issues and reform;Jan. 19, 1952: Day Publishes Her Autobiography, The Long Loneliness[03740] Day, Dorothy Maurin, Peter Batterham, William Forster Hennessy, Tamar Teresa Batterham

Dorothy Day in 1968.

(Courtesy of the Marquette University Archives)

In the book, Day reflects on two incidents in her life that had a strong influence on her sense of social justice and on her religious convictions. As a young girl, she had been impressed with the willingness of her mother and neighbors to provide food and clothing to victims of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, California, near to where she was living. Another deeply moving experience for her was seeing her friend’s mother return, without embarrassment, to her knees and pray after Day had inquired where she might find her daughter.

Day, however, did not grow up in a particularly religious family. After Day was born on November 8, 1897, in Brooklyn, New York, her parents, John and Grace Satterlee Day, did not take their two sons, Donald and Sam Houston, to church. Even after Day’s sister Della and brother John were born, the family was only marginally involved with Church doctrine. However, Dorothy always felt a strong calling to the Church. In an essay published in By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day By Little and By Little (Day) (1983) she wrote, “’All my life I have been haunted by God,’ a character in one of [Fyodor] Dostoevsky’s books says. And that is the way it was with me.”

Day’s spiritual calling ebbed from time to time. Through her school years, her feelings and attitude about religion were not consistent. Frustrated as to why the Church did not follow the teachings of Christ to care for the needy, she turned away from religion. After leaving college, she worked as a journalist for various radical newspapers for very little pay. An early affair in her adult life ended unpleasantly, resulting in her having an abortion. She married Barkeley Tobey and traveled through Europe with him for a year. During that time she wrote The Eleventh Virgin Eleventh Virgin, The (Day) (1924), a novel based on her life. Her marriage to Tobey ended, however, and she returned to the United States. Her radical beliefs resurfaced, causing her great emotional turmoil, but she continued in her convictions to help others and to come to terms with her religious sentiments.

The sale of her novel as a screenplay to Hollywood producers in 1924 provided her with enough funds to purchase a cottage on Staten Island in New York. It was during this time that she met and entered into a common-law relationship with William Forster Batterham. The couple had a daughter—Tamar Teresa, born March 4, 1926—but because Forster did not believe in religion or marriage, Day made the difficult decision to sever their relationship. She had her daughter baptized in the Roman Catholic Church in the hopes that she would have a more stable life.

Shortly after Tamar’s baptism, Day decided to convert to Catholicism. Although she maintained a desire to help the homeless and the socially disregarded, she was unsure how to use her skills to bring about a change. Before returning home from a hunger march in Washington, D.C., in December of 1932, Day went to the national shrine at the Catholic University and “. . . offered up a special prayer, . . . with tears and with anguish,” asking for direction on how to use her talents to help the poor. On her return to New York, she was greeted by Maurin, a French peasant, who was waiting for her at her home, wishing to share his ideas on how to improve the life of those less fortunate. In The Long Loneliness she wrote that this meeting was an answer to her prayers. Maurin’s ideas included in-depth discussions of various serious issues, but they also included the practical, such as founding houses of hospitality to welcome and aid the needy and developing self-sustaining farming communities.

Day and Maurin’s collaboration, based on faith and compassion, evolved into the Catholic Worker movement. Starting out in a small flat in New York, they began serving soup and coffee to the ever-lengthening lines of unemployed and homeless and eventually provided shelter, clothing, and faith. All services were free of charge. The expanded lodgings became known as houses of hospitality.

The houses of hospitality were not just for the homeless, unemployed, or ill. Along with Day and Maurin, there were both short-term and long-term volunteers. Houses of hospitality residents were not forced out after a given amount of time. Volunteers worked as carpenters, cooks, and other positions as needed. No one received a paycheck or retirement or insurance coverage. To educate others about the movement, Day and Maurin began The Catholic Worker Catholic Worker, The (periodical) newspaper. The first issue was distributed on May 1, 1933, in Union Square for a penny.

Day was not just a fund-raiser. She lived in the same home as those she served. She was an active supporter of many causes, including pacifism Pacifism , antiracism, reversing unfair labor practices, and access to birth control. She stood on picket lines, participated in hunger strikes, and was imprisoned as she stood by her principles and beliefs. Voluntary poverty was the credo by which she lived. As a representative of the Catholic Worker movement, she traveled extensively to educate herself on the plight of others and to offer support. In numerous speaking engagements she outlined the beliefs and goals of the movement. Her travels and speaking engagements were chronicled in her “On Pilgrimage” column in The Catholic Worker.

Significance

Even after the United States declared war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Day remained a pacifist. She urged actions of mercy, not actions of war. The publication of The Long Loneliness served not only as a personal journey of faith but also as a continuing social statement to inspire and motivate Christians to see the face of Christ in all people and to treat them accordingly. Her message is a timeless testimony of what is possible through faith.

Reviews of The Long Loneliness noted that Day was humble yet unapologetic about her early bohemianism and radical beliefs. The book has been described as an important personal history as well as a riveting social document of twentieth century American history. Even though Day dismissed the idea that she was a saint, approval has been granted by the Holy See for the Archdiocese of New York to open a Cause for the Beatification and Canonization. Consequently, she was bestowed the title Servant of God. Long Loneliness, The (Day) Autobiographies Christianity;literature

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholic worker.org. Official Web site devoted to the history of the Catholic Worker movement and information on houses of hospitality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Day, Dorothy. By Little and By Little: The Collected Writings of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983. Day’s writings from her books, from her “On Pilgrimage” column, and from other periodicals are presented in this edited collection. Includes an introduction by the editor.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. From Union Square to Rome. Silver Spring, Md.: Preservation of Faith Press, 1938. Open letter to Day’s brother John recounting events from her radical socialist years to her conversion to Catholicism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Loaves and Fishes. 1963. Reprint. New York: Orbis Books, 1997. Essays that include accounts of everyday living at Catholic Worker locations and of some of the people instrumental in the success of the movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day. Reprint. 1952. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997. Day writes of her life from childhood, through years of soul-searching, to the spiritual satisfaction of founding the Catholic Worker movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dorothy Day Collection. Marquette University. http://www.marquette.edu/library/collections/archives/day .html. An extensive collection on Day, including sources on Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker movement, and The Catholic Worker.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Forest, Jim. Love Is the Measure. 1986. Reprint. New York: Orbis Books, 2006. An updated biography of Day that includes many photos and quotations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, William D. Dorothy Day: A Biography. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982. Comprehensive biography of Day, covering her youth through her troubled years to her founding of the Catholic Worker movement and The Catholic Worker with Peter Maurin.

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