dorothy-day

Dorothy Day, one of the most important American Catholic leaders of the 20th century, had an unexpected past. Her early years included a bohemian lifestyle in New York, an abortion, and a child born out of wedlock. She later co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist, faith-based movement for social change that still exists today. Day led the Catholic Worker Movement from its beginnings in the Great Depression through the Vietnam War era. Day fed thousands of people, wrote newspaper columns, novels and plays, was arrested several times in protests, chain-smoked for years, and at times lived on farms as part of an agrarian, back-to-the-land strand of the Catholic Worker movement. She died in 1980 and is now a candidate for sainthood in the Church. 

A new biography that illuminates Day’s activism and her complex personal life comes from someone who knows both well. Writer Kate Hennessy is Day’s youngest granddaughter, and she relied on family letters and diaries, interviews, and her own memories for her new book, Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty.

An ‘Intimate Portrait’ Of Dorothy Day, The Catholic Activist With A Bohemian Past

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18-19 May 1536  “This morning she sent for me, that I might be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should hear her speak as touching her innocency always to be clear. And in the writing of this, she sent for me, and at my coming she said: ‘Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die aforenoon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time, and past my pain’. I told her, it should be no pain, it was so sottle. And then she said, ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck’, and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily. I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death. Sir, her almoner is continually with her, and had been since two o'clock after midnight. This is the effect of anything that is here at this time, and thus fare you well.”  [Letter from Sir W. Kingston, Constable of the Tower, to Thomas Cromwell]

One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.

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? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.

—  Dorothy Day

Chicago Police open fire on striking steel workers and their families killing 10 and wounding around 100. Anarchist Dorothy Day, who was present at the March and massacre, is quoted “On Memorial Day, May 30, 1937, police opened fire on a parade of striking steel workers and their families at the gate of the Republic Steel Company, in South Chicago. Fifty people were shot, of whom 10 later died; 100 others were beaten with clubs.”

By the end of my first full day with Dorothy Evans and her customers, I had come to realize that although the Smithton women are not accustomed to thinking about what it is in the romance that gives them so much pleasure, they know perfectly well why they like to read. I understood this only when their remarkably consistent comments forced me to relinquish my inadvertent but continuing preoccupation with the text. Because the women always responded to my query about their reasons for reading with comments about the pleasures of the act itself rather than about their liking for the particulars of the romantic plot, I soon realized I would have to give up my obsession with textual features and narrative details if I wanted to understand their view of romance reading. Once I recognized this it became clear that romance reading was important to the Smithton women first because the simple event of picking up a book enabled them to deal with the particular pressures and tensions encountered in their daily round of activities.
— 

Radway, J. A. (1984). Reading the romance: Women, patriarchy, and popular literature. Univ of North Carolina Press.

Before Joanna Russ or Patricia Frazer Lamb and Diana L. Veith had tentatively started writing about Kirk/Spock slash, and before Henry Jenkins or Camille Bacon-Smith had begun their ethnographies of fandom, before fan studies was even a thing, Janice A. Radway sat down with a group of women who avidly read romance novels, trying to understand why. As the quote above indicates, Radway’s initial interest was in romance novels as a textual form: how do they work, what stories do they tell, what messages do they send, and just why are they so damn popular? What she didn’t expect was how deeply romance novels were intertwined with her research participants’ day-to-day lives. She found she couldn’t just focus on the texts - she had to look at the practices of those who read them too. While Reading the Romance isn’t a fan studies work as such, it marked a key shift in cultural studies, from looking at texts alone to looking at what audiences did with texts, from viewing audiences as entirely passive to recognising their agency. This in turn enabled others to start asking the kinds of questions that eventually established fan studies as a field.

(Oh, and the book helped establish popular romance studies as a field too - talk about overachieving! Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some more quotes from popular romance studies research, partly because a lot of it is fan-centric, and partly because fanfic and romance have quite a lot in common, so understanding one helps with understanding the other.)

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of Radway’s research participants on what happens when she picks up a romance novel: “Because I think men do feel threatened. They want their wife to be in the room with them. And I think my body is in the room but the rest of me is not.”

Jeremy Scahill at SXSW
  • MODERATOR: "What's the single most important advice you've ever heard?"
  • SCAHILL: "Live as though the truth were true."
  • "Think about that. Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the legendary anti-war Jesuit priest. When Dorothy Day, [co]founder of the Catholic Worker Movement died, he said in her eulogy, 'She lived as though the truth were true."
  • And if you think about the implications of committing yourself to that. It means first of all, you have no tolerance for bullshit lies. But it also means you're not obsessed with short-term efficacy. You're in it for the long haul because what drives you is that the truth actually is true. That sometimes there is only one side to the story. Sometimes power is just fucking evil to the core and it's not worth getting their perspective because it's true. And I think that's been the problem with journalism. People subscribe to this false notion of objectivity. There is no such thing as objectivity. You either give the Emperor his say, or you say, "Fuck you" to the emperor. And we're living in a time when that's more important than ever."
  • *DROPS MIC*
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The Playboy Murder

Beautiful Dorothy Hoogstratten (better known by her stage name Dorothy Stratten) was a shy, awkward teenager when she met Paul Snider, a money hungry hustler who immediately saw the potential for fame in the buxom blonde. Dorothy had struggled with self-esteem issues her entire life, and despite her ethereal looks she did not consider herself worthy enough of a mans attention until Paul Snider came along.

The two fell in love and got married in June 1978, and soon after the wedding Snider persuaded Stratten to pose for nude photos, which he secretly sent off to Playboy magazine. Just a few months later the pair moved to Los Angeles, where Dorothy became a finalist in the Playboy Bunny Hunt competition. She met Hugh Hefner and worked as a dancer in his Playboy Club, and Snider encouraged her to audition for movie roles. To help her get roles, Snider bullied Dorothy into dying her hair peroxide blonde, and forced her to undertake a gruelling diet and exercise regimen. Dorothy’s hard work paid off when she featured as Playboy’s “Playmate of the Month” for August 1979, and she was also voted “Playmate of the year 1980”.

In 1980 Dorothy starred in her first (and only) movie, ‘Galaxina’, where she plays a beautiful robot. At the movie’s first screening, Hugh Hefner pulled Dorothy aside and warned her to keep away from Snider. “He’s a hustler and a pimp. He’s just using you” Hefner reportedly said. Dorothy made the fatal mistake of telling her husband about this remark, and Snider grew even more jealous and paranoid over his beautiful young wife.

Snider began beating Dorothy, flying into rages about the affairs he believed Dorothy must be having. He prohibited her from leaving the house without him, took away her car keys, and would stand next to Dorothy when she talked on the phone. Her friends desperately tried to seek help for her, but Stratten would always blame herself for his behaviour and make excuses for the bruises that were showing up on her body with increasing regularity.

In April 1980 Dorothy fell in love with Peter Bogdanovich, the director of the new film she had scored a lead role in. Snider hired a private detective to spy on her, and when he discovered his wife’s affair he reportedly threatened to kill Dorothy and “ruin that pretty face”. Dorothy and Peter moved in together at his mansion in Beverley Hills, and by August Dorothy had filed for divorce.

On August 14, 1980, Snider rang Dorothy and asked to meet her at his house to talk about an amicable divorce. Dorothy enthusiastically agreed and withdrew $1000 to give to Snider.

What happened next is unclear. Dorothy arrived at Snider’s house around noon, and at some point during the night Snider beat Dorothy and tied her into an elaborate BDSM harness. He violently raped and sodomized her, before shooting her in the face at point-blank range with a 12-gauge shotgun. Snider raped her dead body again, aimed the gun at his head, and committed suicide.

The landlord of the house discovered the two nude bodies the next day. Dorothy was only 20 years old, and Hugh Hefner wrote this about her in an article:

“Dorothy took my breath away. She had this beautiful inner quality about her that was so charming, so innocent, and it touched everything in the room”

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The Works of Mercy are an abiding norm for the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin lived lives of “active love” built on these precepts.

In Christian tradition they are…

The corporal works of mercy: 
feeding the hungry 
giving drink to the thirsty 
clothing the naked 
offering hospitality to the homeless 
caring for the sick 
visiting the imprisoned 
burying the dead 
 

The spiritual works of mercy: 
admonishing the sinner 
instructing the ignorant 
counseling the doubtful 
comforting the sorrowful 
bearing wrongs patiently 
forgiving all injuries 
praying for the living and the dead

“Day’s capacity to see the heroism in other people’s projects, even if those people did not share her religious convictions or economic theories, made it easier for those others to take an interest in her work. Soon she began combing her journalistic travels with talks at Catholic universities, and everywhere she spoke she encountered earnest young people who wanted to participate in the budding movement. She quickly honed the advice she would give to new Catholic Workers for the next forty years:

  1. Start where you are: Identify the gifts and needs present in your neighborhood, and practice the works of mercy there.
  2. Stay small: Remember that massive houses of hospitality would not be necessary if everyone took personal responsibility for those around them.
  3. Honor your vocation: Choose the work where you feel the most joy, and don’t be afraid to move on in response to the spirit’s call.
  4. Accept failure: Remember that God’s work is like a seed that must fall to the ground before it can bear fruit.

These simple ideas, repeated time and again, empowered individuals and communities to craft countless variations on the Catholic Worker ideal, while remaining in fruitful dialogue with both Day herself and one another.”
-The Catholic Worker After Dorothy, p. 36

May this advice help sustain and direct your (and our collective) work.

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each others faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much. Yes, I see only too clearly how bad people are. I wish I did not see it so. It is my own sins that give me such clarity.
—  Dorothy Day