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Dorothy Day on Women’s Right to Choose

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was grounded in her faith, and she resisted any attempt to dilute the truth she practiced. We were struck by this little vignette, sent to us by a friend in the mid-west, because it shows us an unvarnished Dorothy, speaking her mind forthrightly and not always tactfully. Having had an abortion herself, Dorothy understood the pressures on women to abort their children. She believed whole-heartedly, however, that abortion was the wrong solution to a ‘problem’ pregnancy. She affirmed the rights and dignity of women, but also the life of unborn children. Nurturing life, she felt, should be a priority for all adults, and sacrifices needed to be made for the next generation. Here is a picture of the unvarnished Dorothy:

“In May 1971 Dorothy Day came to the campus of Dakota State College as a visiting scholar at the invitation of my husband Gerry, who was managing a visiting scholar program for the college. Since Miss Day wanted her honorarium to benefit her cherished homeless people in New York, we invited her to stay at our home during her visit. We had four active children under the age of eight. Our son moved out of his bedroom to sleep upstairs in his sisters’ room to give Miss Day a room of her own. Gerry and I smiled over the heads of the children when she politely excused herself, retired to her room, and closed the door when their boisterous squabbles and physical interactions became too unnerving for her.

“On her second day with us…she had been invited a meeting on Rights for Women at South Dakota State … 45 minutes away. I planned to accompany her and my husband to the meeting. Before we could go I had to find a baby-sitter, prepare a meal for the children, feed the baby, give instructions to the sitter… Dorothy sat in the rocking chair quietly waiting during all this normal hustle and bustle of preparation for leaving.

“The young women sponsoring the event were thrilled that Dorothy Day would come to their meeting and be interested in their cause. When we arrived she was introduced with style and lauded over for her work in the movement to help downtrodden women.

“The young woman in charge of the meeting welcomed the audience and gave a short background on Dorothy Day in preparation for Dorothy’s presentation. She announced that Miss Day understood a woman’s right to choose, and that abortion was very much at the heart of empowering women. Dorothy, who was sitting in the front row, rose out of her chair to her full angular forbidding height, shook her finger at the speaker, and angrily scolded her on the falseness of such a belief, on the dignity of women and the child’s right to life. Because of the amazement of the moment, I do not recall her exact words, but I remember she told these young women in great detail how I had ‘worked and sacrificed’ to take care of the children so I could come to the meeting. Her point was that this had dignity and was life-giving.

“After her lecture there was nothing more to say. The young women hung their heads and were silent. We picked up our handbags and left. On the drive home she was still indignant about the indignity of the gathering. When we reached Madison, we were not only exhausted but hungry as well. We stopped for a sandwich at our local restaurant. At the end of the meal Dorothy looked longingly at the beautiful pies on the counter. Her thin frame clearly could use the calories so we encouraged her to order pie. The price of pecan pie was 45 cents but she felt that was too expensive for our pocket books. Gerry looked at her and suggested, ‘What the heck, let’s celebrate!’, and so we did –each of us with an oversized piece of pie, for 45 cents each!”

Reprinted from Magnificat, the newsletter of Mary’s House Catholic Worker, Birmingham, Alabama.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, May-June 2008.