When Pope Francis visited Washington a few months ago, he heaped praise on Dorothy Day, saying she was a “representative of the American people” with a “passion for justice.”
She was known as a liberal — some would say a socialist or communist. And certainly she associated with many of the leading socialist and communist figures of the early 20th Century.
But a new book, Dorothy Day, Journalist 1916-1917, by Tom McDonogh focuses on just two years, 1916 and 1917, when she was a young journalist in Manhattan. Certainly what she saw and wrote about in left-wing periodicals of the time would be enough to make a person tend toward socialism.
In her stories for The New York Call Day describes a miserable existence on the lower East Side. She knew the existence because she lived it, although it appears she didn’t need to. But the difference between sympathy and pity is to understand the precariousness of the working poor, for whom unemployment, sickness or starvation could plunge a family into destitution and starvation.
It’s a worthwhile book for those seeking to understand lower-class life in New York City around the time of World War I and well as for those seeking to understand why Dorothy Day became such an advocate for the poor.
The economy under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama make this book particularly relevant for out times.