Monday, March 25, 2013

DOROTHY DAY | Letters on Her Daughter's Poverty, 1949-51 (Updated Nov. 24, 2015)

The probability of the canonization of Dorothy Day was increased by her mention by Pope Benedict XVI in the final two weeks of his Papacy (on Ash Wednesday) in 2013, as a model of conversion to the Catholic faith. And now Pope Francis in his address to Congress has expressed his admiration for Dorothy Day, calling her "a great American".

This followed on the unanimous vote of the U.S. bishops at their 2012 fall assembly to pursuesainthood for Dorothy Day. She is best known for being a co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper. The first American-born saint was St. (Mother) Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Pope Benedict and the U.S. bishops may see in her life something that bears on the issues of today. She had an abortion and her conversion stems from her feelings after having been through the abortion. She was also suspicious of government entering into people’s private lives.

Hilda van Stockum and Dorothy Day shared being writers and being converts to Roman Catholicism. As the correspondence indicates, they shared interests in the business of writing, education and books for children.

Regrettably, I have, as my mother's executor, only the letters sent to my mother by Dorothy Day in 1949 and 1951. (I do not have a copy of the letters sent by my mother to Dorothy Day.)

1.       1949, Feb. 3, DD to HvS
2.       1951 n.d., DD to HvS
3.       1951, Dec. 20, DD to HvS

 [Dorothy Day]
[Peter Maurin Farm]
[469 Bloomingdale Rd.]
[Pleasant Plains, Staten Island, N.Y.]

Feb 3, 1949 [Feast of] St. Blaise

Dear Hilda [in Montreal] –

After your so good and friendly letter I must call you by your Christian name. It was good to get your generous letter and we would be delighted to get the books and I know my daughter would too. Her address is Ridge Road, Westminster, Md. Our farm address - where I am most often is Peter Maurin Farm, 469 Bloomingdale Rd., Pleasant Plains, Staten Island, N.Y.

Do you know our friends - Dr. Karl Stern, 4137 Marlowe Ave., Montreal? They too have children. You would love them. [We visited with them in Westmount. I remember them well. - JTM]

My daughter is going to have her fifth child in June. Her husband is now working at the Newman Book Shop until 9 at night which leaves her much alone, out in the country and still with no conveniences.

When your books come I will read them too. I love children's books and would love to write one some day. Right now I am engaged on a story of my life which Harpers asked for after reading On Pilgrimage. [Her autobiography was published and is still in print - JTM] I'm having an awful struggle getting it done. How do you write with 6 children?

Have you heard of the Grail? Started by two Dutch women in this country? A marvelous school for girls.

My son-in-law, having no formal education, read all of the Chesterton & Belloc to get their education. A good idea.

            Got to rush now. Too many people. Write again
                        Sincerely in Christ
                                    Dorothy Day

[Dorothy Day]
[Peter Maurin Farm, 469 Bloomingdale Rd.]
[Pleasant Plains, Staten Island, N.Y.]


Dear Hilda [in Ireland] –

Thank you for your most interesting letters from Ireland. Just back myself from a 4 mos. trip to the coast and south, and return to 10 degrees above zero and rheumatism in my hands.

How do you ever get so much writing done, and such good writing. I'm trying mainly to finish a St. Therese book. I am too attached to people.

My daughter's children have been sick with mumps, & the oldest with pneumonia. She is 8 this April. Tamar will have her 6th in Aug. - 6 under 9. Quite a handful. And noisy. All in a 4 room house! Poverty indeed.

However if we can raise the money to put on one big room and porch it will do, as they have 4 acres around them and the house only cost $6,000. Housing is still a problem here. One of the worst parts of poverty is the necessity to be always scheming, planning, figuring, how to get bills paid.

That's voluntary poverty too, altho we would like to think romantically about it as freedom from care.

Pray for us, and God bless you.
                                    In Christ
                                                Dorothy Day

P.S. I speak as to a kindred soul. My royalty check went in 10 minutes.

[Dorothy Day]
[Peter Maurin Farm, 469 Bloomingdale Rd.]
[Pleasant Plains, Staten Island, N.Y.]


Dec. 20, 1951 [possibly 1952?]

Dear Hilda –

Thank you for your lovely letter of Sept 30!

Please excuse delay. I've been travelling about the country & am not half done yet. What a life you have! I envy you living in Ireland near the sea.

Yes, you must come to one our retreats. They are going better than ever this year. A_ _ became a Catholic as a result of one.

Tamar is having a hard winter with her little flock. Too shut in. Their house is too small. They are fearfully overcrowded. A big family needs a big house to be happy.

I'm writing a new book on The Little Flower and I'm hoping it sells well enough _ for me to help her build a big extra living room in back & a porch on the front. She lives in real poverty, poor child. Pray for her.

I'm enjoying this trip very much. It is both work and vacation. There is so much to write about - I could fill two Catholic Workers!

Thank you very much for writing me. A Happy Christmas and New Year to you all
                                    In Christ
                                                Dorothy Day

Comment from Olga Marlin:

I remember mother talking about Dorothy Day, as she did about many other people. She became friends with Karl Stern and often talked about him. [Several of the Marlin children became friends for a while with the Stern children in Montreal in 1947-1951.]

Excerpts from Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest: 
The following excerpts were originally written for the Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, under the heading "Servant of God Dorothy Day". It was updated for the Catholic Worker web site 2013. Forest is the author of All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day, published by Orbis Press. The bold face comments in brackets are by John Tepper Marlin, son of Hilda van Stockum to whom the letters above were forwarded as HvS's executor.
Dorothy Day 

“What you did to the least person, you did to me.”  Matthew, 25:40

[Dorothy Day]  was born into a journalist’s family in Brooklyn, New York, on November 8, 1897. After surviving the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, the Day family moved into a tenement flat on Chicago's South Side. It was a big step down in the world, made necessary because [her father] John Day was out of work. When [he] was appointed sports editor of a Chicago newspaper, the Day family moved into a comfortable house on the North Side. Here Dorothy began to read books that stirred her conscience. A novel by Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, inspired Day to take long walks in poor neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side, the area where much of Sinclair’s novel was set. These long walks were the start of a life-long attraction to areas many people avoid. [Upton Sinclair professed his love for Inez Milholland in a letter to her. JTM]

Dropping out of [the University of Illinois in 1916, to avoid burdening her father,] she moved to New York where she found a job reporting for The Call, the city's one socialist daily; she covered rallies and demonstrations and interviewed people ranging from butlers to revolutionaries. [That year 1916 there were many demonstrations for Votes for Women, the War in Europe, and so forth. JTM]

She next worked for The Masses, a magazine that opposed American involvement in the European war. In September, the Post Office rescinded the magazine's mailing permit. Federal officers seized back issues, manuscripts, subscriber lists and correspondence. Five editors were charged with sedition. Day, the newest member of the staff, was able to get out the journal’s final issue. [The editor of The Masses, Max Eastman, was in love with Inez Milholland, who married my mother’s uncle, Eugen Boissevain. Max speaks highly of Eugen in his book Great Companions. JTM]

In November 1917 Day went to prison for being one of forty women arrested in front of the White House for protesting women's exclusion from the electorate. Arriving at a rural workhouse, the women were roughly handled. The women responded with a hunger strike. Finally they were freed by presidential order. [And the President changed his mind about supporting the Anthony Amendment. It soon passed the Congress and was ratified as the 19th Amendment by the last state in 1920. JTM]

Returning to New York, Day felt that journalism was a meager response to a world at war. In the spring of 1918, she signed up for a nurses’ training program in Brooklyn. [Later, she moved to the farm on Staten Island. JTM]

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