Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dorothy Day, Girl Reporter for The New York Call 1916-1917

Tom McDonough, An Eye For Others, Dorothy Day Journalist: 1916-1917 (Washington, DC: Clemency Press, 2016).

Ryan Walker, New Adventures of Henry Dubb (Chicago, IL: 1915).

Dorothy Day 1920s

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) is known as the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement (CW) with Peter Maurin in 1933, and for her selfless service to the homeless and downtrodden. Her legacy lives on. According to the CW website, today there are 240 CW communities mostly in the US providing hospitality to the homeless and other social services. The Catholic Church is formally considering Dorothy for Sainthood, although Dorothy might object. She often said,“Don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed that easily." She sometimes called herself a Christian Anarchist. The best statement of her views is The Aims and Means of The Catholic Worker, which is periodically reprinted in the Catholic Worker newspaper. Her philosophy was a unique and odd mix of left and right. In some ways she founded the Catholic Left in the US. She supported Republican Spain in the 1930s, championed the labor movement and civil rights, opposed war, criticized capitalism. On the other hand, she was an observant Catholic (including Church teaching on abortion and divorce), and a proponent of Distributism, an economic doctrine that had a brief life in the 1920s and 1930s, and then disappeared. Like Duke Ellington, Dorothy is "beyond category."

The Dorothy Day I find most appealing is her bohemian youth. Author Tom McDonough has collected excerpts from her published articles in the socialist The New York Call newspaper and The Masses in An Eye For Others, Dorothy Day, Journalist: 1916-1917, with commentary about her life and New York bohemia of the day. McDonough is a Catholic blogger and scholar. His two blogs on his Dorothy Day research and liberation theology are worth a visit: Precursorsof the Spirit of Pope Francis, and The Shire With WIFI.

Dorothy was born in Brooklyn Heights NYC in 1897 to a middle class family. Her father John Day, and later her two brothers and Dorothy, were journalists - the family business. John moved the family to Oakland CA in 1904 for a newspaper job, until the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 destroyed his paper. In The Long Loneliness (1952), Dorothy Day recounts the mutual aid and self-sacrifice of neighbors responding to the disaster. The family relocated to Chicago, where Dorothy grew up. She was an constant reader- no internet, radio, TV, computer games. Her expansive reading is evident in everything she writes. She loved the great Russian novelists Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Gorky, and the socialist novels of Upton Sinclair and Jack London in her teens. She was also influenced by her  older brother Donald, who wrote for the working-class Scripps-Howard newspaper The Day Book. She read Carl Sandburg, Eugene Debs, Peter Kropotkin, and accounts of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). From 1914-16 she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on scholarship, then moved to NYC where her father had a new job at New York Morning Telegraph.

Very quickly Dorothy landed a reporter job at the socialist daily The New York Call in autumn 1916. She said later in From Union Square to Rome (1938), "I was only eighteen, so I wavered between my allegiance to Socialism, Syndicalism (the IWW's), and Anarchism. When I read Tolstoy I was an Anarchist. My allegiance to The Call kept me a socialist, although a left-wing one, and my Americanism inclined me to the IWW movement." I still have the same problem. She graduated to "Special Features Writer" in January 1918. One of her first assignments was "the Diet Squad"- reporting on living on $5/week on Cherry Street on the Lower East Side, which coincidentally was also her starting salary. She itemized her weekly rent for one room, food budget, cooking gas, clothing, laundry, transportation, recreation, and sundries. She also documented the daily struggles of the working poor who were her neighbors. She lived in the same tenements and shared their poverty.

Cartoonist Ryan Walker in the Appeal to Reason

The New York Call was still an ecumenical socialist daily in the days before the Russian Revolution. It was one of only three English-language socialist dailies in the US, with a circulation of 15,000 copies per issue in 1916. This was dwarfed by the foreign language socialist dailies. The Yiddish-language Forverts had circulation of 200,000, and the German-language New Yorker Volkszeitung had 25,000+. The staff of The Call during Dorothy's tenure included Rose Pastor Stokes, editor of the "Woman's Department"; regular cartoons by Ryan Walker with his New Adventures of Henry Dubb; and Dorothy's romantic interest, copy editor Itzok Isaac Granich (aka Mike Gold - author of Jews Without Money). During six months at The Call, Dorothy had 39 articles with her byline, and probably some more unattributed. The complete text of those articles are archived at the Catholic Worker Movement website. She also freelanced at The Liberator and The Masses. She was an accomplished journalist. 

Michael Gold columnist
Daily Worker

This was a protean moment for the American Left. The US entered WWI after Woodrow Wilson's election. The Russian Revolutions broke out. The Federal Government repressed dissent and expelled foreign radicals. The American Socialist Party and IWW fragmented into many competing communist and social democratic parties. The New York Call reported all of it. Dorothy Day interviewed Leon Trotsky during his 3 month exile in NYC, and Margaret Sanger and Ethel Byrne after their imprisonment for dispensing birth control information. Dorothy wrote five articles in April 1917 chronicling the peace pilgrimage of Columbia University students from NYC to Washington DC. The students opposed  the draft and opposed entering the European war. Six months later Dorothy picketed the White House for women's suffrage, was arrested and served 15 days in jail with Alice Paul from the National Women's Party. Her young friends and comrades became leaders in the post-WWI left: Eugene O'Neil, Michael Gold, John Reed, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Anna Louise Strong, Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, and Mary Heaton Vorse. Revolution was in the air, like the 1960s. There was vigorous debate in the Left, conflict and sectarian disputes. 

Ultimately, Dorothy took a different path. She told biographer Robert Coles, "I was very caught up in socialist convictions. I've always believed that people should share with each other, and that for a few to be rich and many to be poor is wrong, dead wrong." But she did not see the Left bringing forth brotherhood, cooperation, peace and justice. She rejected the brutality of Bolshevik rule and the dogmas of the left. Dorothy gradually returned to her childhood passion for Christianity. This period of her life is recounted in her novel The Eleventh Virgin (1924). She converted to Catholicism in 1927, and founded the Catholic Worker with the Christian Brother Peter Maurin in 1932. Her program was no longer socialism, but Catholic social teaching and the Gospel.

She said, "The biggest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution that has to start with each one of us." She remained true to this mission all her life.