For the 35th episode of the Journalism History podcast host Nick Hirshon spoke with Bailey Dick about the radical journalism of Dorothy Day during her five decades at the helm of The Catholic Worker.
Bailey Dick is a Ph.D. student and Scripps Howard teaching fellow at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Winner of the History Division’s top student paper award at the 2019 AEJMC conference in Toronto, Dick is the author of “‘Is It Not Possible to Be a Radical and a Christian?’: Dorothy Day’s Evolving Relationship with the Patriarchal Norms of Journalism and Catholicism” in a forthcoming issue of Journalism History.
This episode is sponsored by the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
Nick Hirshon: 00:00:10 Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to re-examine the stories you thought you knew, and the ones you were never told. I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, guiding you through our own drafts of history.
This episode is sponsored by Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, named for one of the nation’s pioneering newspaper publishers.
Dorothy Day was once such a radical voice within the Catholic Church that her journalism was banned from the pews. When she founded a newspaper named the Catholic Worker in 1933, Day started a social movement that melded traditional Catholic beliefs with leftist ideology, and angered bishops who criticized her deeply personal writing and refused to let her speak to their congregations. But her tone over six decades as a journalist evolved from confrontational to conventional, and she was gradually accepted into a famously male-dominated institution. In a remarkable transition, she turned a personal life marked by two suicide attempts, multiple failed marriages, an abortion, and a child born out of wedlock into advocacy so powerful that she is now under formal consideration for sainthood.
00:01:30 In this episode, we discuss Day’s journalism with Bailey Dick, a Ph.D. student and Scripps Howard teaching fellow at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
Bailey, welcome to the Journalism History Podcast.
Bailey Dick: Thanks for having me.
Nick Hirshon: Of course. So we’re here today to discuss your upcoming article in Journalism History, which is entitled, “‘Is It Not Possible to Be a Radical and a Christian?’: Dorothy Day’s Evolving Relationship with the Patriarchal Norms of Journalism and Catholicism.” And before we look specifically at Dorothy Day, I’d like if we could set the scene for the times in which she lived, that you do very well in your article. The broader landscape for women in news and in American society at the time. So can you start just describing that – how the 1930s, you say, was one of the most difficult decades for women of oppressive anti-woman legislation? Just what was the era that she was living in before we get into who she was?
Bailey Dick: 00:02:24 Yeah, sure. So when she started her newspaper in 1933, it was right at the height of the Great Depression. So there were lots of people who were out of work. There were specifically lots of men out of work and this was like, you know, in pre-war times. So lots of places wanted to hire men first. And so with all these men kind of fighting for jobs, if you will, there were, there was lots of legislation and like anti-woman-in-the-workplace things that were being passed. So it was seen as a thing where if a man wanted a job, it should be his position as you know, a quote-unquote “provider” for a typical family of the time to have that job first and then to have the woman kind of take one for the team and stay home and be with the family.
00:03:17 So it was seen as this thing that women should be able to kind of take a bullet and not take a job so that all kinds of men could have jobs instead of them. And so going along with that there were, it was, you know, right before the New Deal and, you know, where lots of people were having access to jobs. So it was more that, like, it was more of a personal thing that women should be able to do this. And if they weren’t going to be compliant with that, there were going to be some laws to say, well, these men should have jobs first, if that makes sense.
Nick Hirshon: 00:03:54 Sure. And we’re certainly gonna see how Dorothy Day goes against that norm. So, just for a little bit of background, she was born in 1897 she was an American journalist who converted to Catholicism and became a social activist. So can you just start, I know this is a kind of a loaded question, a lengthy answer. We’re going to go over the next hour or so discussing her history in more detail, but can you just start by telling us a little bit of like maybe a Wikipedia-style summary of who Dorothy Day was and why you chose to research her?
Bailey Dick: 00:04:22 Oh gosh, that is a long question. So we’ll start with part one of that first, so who she was. She was born, like you said, in 1897 to a family of journalists. So her father was a sports reporter and that kind of took the family all across the country to wherever he was reporting from that year. Her brother was also a journalist, so she kind of had this family culture of men being journalists, but she saw that when she was living in Chicago growing up and then later in San Francisco during one of the major earthquakes there that there was lots of storytelling that she wanted to do with her life. So after a very, very brief stint in college, she moved to New York and started writing for radical publications there. And then from there she had this kind of 10- to 15-year period that was, most people describe it as Bohemian.
00:05:11 I’ve kind of described it as like your early twenties hot mess experience. So she wandered around for 10 to 15 years, kind of doing odd reporting jobs but also some activist work. So she was one of Alice Paul’s silent sentinels, and she was arrested in front of the White House and went on hunger strike. She was arrested in Chicago as part of a red squad raid where she was described as being part of a disorderly house. So like, in short, prostitutes, arrested for being a prostitute, which she wasn’t. She was just living in a house with a bunch of communists. She had an abortion. She had really horrific taste in men and was kind of drawn to these really problematic men who kind of wanted to lean on her strong woman expertise. And so after a while, it’s 1932 and so she goes to Washington, D.C., and she covers one of the hunger marches there and – for one of the Catholic publications – and decides after that that she’s seen, you know, these kind of leftist publications that she’s written for in the past.
00:06:19 And she was freelancing for these Catholic publications after her conversion in the mid-twenties. And just decided there was not really a, like, a melding of the two, like where, you know, you could learn about the Catholic view on social justice and also have it with a kind of leftist socialist slant. So she decided she was going to start her own. So she started her own newspaper in 1933. She ran it for 50 years until she died in 1980. It has always, it’s still in publication today, so it ran and was for 50 years on about a monthly basis depending on if they had money or not. But it sold for a penny a copy from the first publication until now you can still get it for a penny a copy. And going along with this newspaper where they covered social issues kind of from a Catholic angle, there’s also a corresponding, like, social service movement.
00:07:18 So in addition to running this newspaper where they, they talked about the social work that they were doing and social issues that were going on, she started what she called houses of hospitality. So it’s, think of, like, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in one. But on the side they also did kind of education on social issues, education on Catholic theology. And so they would take in kind of the people that the homeless shelters would not, so the worst of the worst – people who were violent, people who were addicts, immigrant families. It was an integrated place so there were people of all races and ethnicities in the house. So, and there’s still going on today. There’s still two hundred of them all across the world. So that’s kind of the very broad view of what she did in kind of why she’s sort of famous, Catholic famous, I would say. And she is now up for sainthood within the Catholic Church. So that’s kind of cool.
Nick Hirshon: 00:08:20 Yeah. Thank you for giving us that summary. I know we kind of — I kind of asked you there to reduce so much of your work and I know it’s something – when someone’s life is so incredible. Don’t worry, we’re going to get into a lot more detail. I just wanted to get that kind of overview, but before we move on though, why did you choose to research her? What about her past or the available materials or whatever made you so interested in her?
Bailey Dick: 00:08:42 She, and I didn’t know this going into it at the time, but she is kind of the, like, platonic ideal of what you look for as a journalism historian. But I didn’t know that going into it. It just kind of happened to work out that way. So she, like I said, she was kind of a hot mess. She, like, in a lot of her autobiographies and stories that have been done about her say that she could drink anybody under the table. She smoked, she swore she had an abortion. She attempted suicide, had horrific taste in men. And she’s still someone that’s really admired and looked up to. And I really kind of identify with her a lot as someone who’s Catholic, as someone who is still practicing my faith, as someone who is leftist, she’s someone who I, I see a lot of myself in, in the kind of craziness.
00:09:35 And also that I went to Loyola University Chicago as an undergraduate. It’s a phenomenal Jesuit school, really focused on social justice. And I was, as part of the campus ministry department there, I actually spent time in Catholic worker houses a lot through my four years at Loyola – one in Baltimore, one in Chicago itself, and one in Washington, D.C. So getting to spend time there with people who were Catholic workers, people who knew her, I got to learn a lot about the fact that there’s just not one version of what being Catholic looks like. And that there’s this whole broad, like, intellectual tradition and theological tradition that really doesn’t get explored a lot of, like, you know, I know I never learned about it in youth group or in Catholic school growing up. So just to know that there’s a place for people like me in the church is kind of really refreshing and kind of hopeful.
00:10:36 So anyway, long story short when I, I worked for a reporter for a number of years. I worked in politics for a while and between, you know, people I was interviewing for stories or people who I was interviewing for public relations work within you know, the political campaigns I was working on. Something that really I never quite could settle with was the fact that I was taking people’s stories often at like the worst times in their lives or about things that were really horrible to them. So things like, you know, the death of a family member or, you know, what it’s like to work on $8 an hour or what it’s like to, you know, be an undocumented immigrant and have to worry about that. Or people who were experiencing, like, horrific racial injustice. So what to do with these stories that people were giving me and how I could treat them with reverence and respect and dignity and not feel like I was using them or, you know, using the horrible parts of their lives to sell a story for a profit.
Bailey Dick: 00:11:40 ’Cause ultimately, you know, when you’re working for, for profit paper where you’re working for a campaign, you know, to, in a sense you’re using people’s stories. So when I decided to go back to school in 2016, I knew that was kind of something I wanted to focus my research and my work on. And so you know, when I was trying to decide what I wanted to write a thesis on, I was kicking around this idea and realized that someone who really didn’t do that with Dorothy Day, and I kind of almost glossed over, and I think a lot of people do, the fact that she was a journalist by trade. She was a journalist first and not just someone who you know, was responsible for the founding and running of this social movement in this social service enterprise. But she was a journalist and who took these people’s stories and used them to really change people’s lives for the better, without making a profit off of it.
00:12:32 So I started thinking about Dorothy and, you know, Mike Sweeney, his royal highness, the God’s gift to journalism history, you know, said, “Well, if you want to do something with her, you’ve got to see if she’s got an archive.” So I went to Google and started Googling, “Does Dorothy Day have an archive?” And boy, howdy, does she. So no one has really tapped into this archive since it was unsealed in 2005, which meant like it was kind of my playground and she was an absolute hoarder when it came to letters and diaries and manuscripts and just like just tons of stuff. For like eighty years, she had like eighty years’ worth of stuff. And so I went up there and sure enough, there’s just like thousands of pages of documents that nobody has really done anything with. So it kind of made for, like, the perfect journalism history person to research ’cause she has this like super rich history. I’m super personally connected to it and she has, like, documents for days. So it, it ended up being that I have so much stuff I kinda had to whittle down what I was gonna do with it. Rather than try to scrape together primary documents. I have my cup overflow with thousands of pages of handwritten notes for 80 years.
Nick Hirshon: 00:13:54 Well, how fantastic when you have a topic that you’re so passionate about and you feel a personal connection to you because of your past as a reporter, as a Catholic, and I think that just makes the research all the more enjoyable for you while you’re doing it, but then also for the reader, right? You can, people can really see that as they’re reading the work. So just to expand a little bit on what you were saying, you described briefly the kind of genesis of the Catholic Worker. In your article, you described how she was sent in Washington, D.C., 1932, during the depths of the Depression, to report on the National Hunger March. You just mentioned this, unemployed Americans for Catholic publications, American Commonweal, and she wrote that she felt unfulfilled, her faith and her conscious compelled her to do something about the suffering that she had, would not just write about it.
00:14:38 And you kind of described a similar feeling, I guess, that you had. So she walked to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She wept and prayed that she could find a way to merge her writing abilities with her commitment to social change. And that led her to become the founder and editor of the Catholic Worker, a newspaper that reached a circulation of more than a hundred thousand and you describe in the study that she wrote deeply personal theological columns published continuously from 1933 to 1980. So can you give us a little bit more context on the Catholic Worker for listeners who may not be familiar with it? Even myself, as someone who was raised Catholic, is Catholic, doesn’t really know much about the Catholic Worker. And you described in the paper how it had a bit of an unconventional editorial structure. So can you give us a little bit more insight into the Catholic Worker?
Bailey Dick: 00:15:23 Yeah, absolutely. So Dorothy ended up kind of both running and writing it, so there’s you know, hundreds of articles that were unsigned in the Catholic Worker and she wrote all of those as well. But in addition to the kind of staff that they had based in their New York hospitality house, they had kind of correspondents all over the country at their Catholic worker houses that would send in dispatches about work that they were doing. So it wasn’t just like a national paper. So let’s say you were working at the Catholic Worker house in Baltimore, Maryland. The folks there would send in a little article to the Catholic Worker headquarters about the social justice work that they were doing on the ground there, and the Catholic Worker would then publish that and send it out to all of their readership. So you got a sense of buy-in from local communities that I think was really unique at the time.
00:16:15 And even today, so you know, you hear lots about, you know, especially in the wake of the 2016 election that, you know, we didn’t know what was going on in real America. Well, 1933 Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, we’re having people send in dispatches from quote-unquote “real America” to talk about what issues were going on in their communities that they were working on. And then there was also this really unique kind of symbiotic structure wherein, like, both the clients of the Catholic Worker houses – so those who were staying there for food, for shelter – would help in the publication of the paper. They’d help fold newspapers and address them. But also the people who are on staff at the Catholic Worker would stay in that house of hospitality as well. So it’s not like they were, you know, going back to their nice house in the suburbs and coming in just to do this dogoodership.
00:17:03 They were invested in a very real way in living in community with people from all backgrounds. And so the work that they were doing wasn’t just writing. It was really committing to living a lifestyle, which is really unique. And there was not a super-hierarchical editorial structure other than kinda Dorothy called the shots on the final draft of stuff. But it wasn’t a top-down structure that you would see in most newsrooms. So a lot of the, you know, stereotyping and gender-based work that Dorothy did in her early career didn’t really happen so much in the Catholic Worker’s structure as a newspaper. So you know, she sent people out to cover all kinds of stuff. She sent people to Cuba, when Americans weren’t allowed to Cuba. She, you know, went and lived in the south for weeks at a time to cover the civil rights movement before most mainstream publications were sending reporters there. So it was this really, I would say, radical newspaper structure as well as like how the newspaper was tied into the movement and the living situation there as well.
Nick Hirshon: 00:18:14 And you talked about the other research that’s been done on Dorothy Day, and I have to admit, when I first started reading your article, I was thinking, well, so much has already been done on her. What is there left to say? But you mentioned that more than a dozen biographies have been written about her as have books about her spirituality and prayer life. For this study you talked about – like many historians before you examined her personal papers at Marquette University, private correspondence from acquaintances and relatives, but some of those papers, and here’s what I think separates your research, including her diary, some of those papers were unsealed only in 2005, twenty-five years after her death. So that’s fairly recent in terms of journalism history. And you could find no published research on her method of navigating patriarchal church and industry spaces vis-a-vis her writings. So your article tries to fill that gap. So why do you think that previous media historians did not do the sort of research on Dorothy Day that you did? Maybe it’s because of the lack of the diary and some of the other letters and papers, or is there some other reason why people have not focused on her in this way?
Bailey Dick: 00:19:21 I think it’s a little bit of both. So in a sense, you know, after 2005, you know, with this additional material, I think it provides so much richness and depth to understanding who she was, particularly how unconventional, and I think some people would say problematic, I would just say human, she is. So I think, you know, with this new additional material, it just adds a richness that maybe we didn’t have before. And she kept – this was done on purpose before she died and she gave over her materials to Marquette University’s library. She specifically wanted certain parts of her archive not to be available to public for the first 25 years because it contains some of the most personal information about her. So, you know, on a human level, I understand that. And I, I think just having that extra humanness adds so much to her, ’cause she’s not someone who fits neatly into a box.
00:20:18 She’s very complicated. She’s very, very human. And I think that’s important. And we sometimes, I think, miss out on that as researchers, that we want to fit people into like a very neat box of like who they are and assign a label to them so it’s, it’s easier for us as researchers to understand them. But I think it just makes her more human. So there’s, there’s that. But as to why people maybe haven’t researched her in terms of, I don’t know, I think it’s kind of a complicated thing, talking about feminism and religion and politics and people’s traumatic lives and journalism. You know, when you tell people that’s what you research, you know, people usually recoil. When I tell them I love to research women and trauma and feminism and Catholicism, you know, those are not words that you think typically go together.
00:21:08 So I think in a sense I do stuff that nobody would want to touch with a ten-foot pole. But I think that makes it all the more fun. So there has been a lot of work done on Dorothy. There’s a million biographies. She herself wrote half a dozen autobiographies. There’s bound collections of her diaries, of her letters that were edited. And there’s a lot of academic research that’s even been done on her and her life, her theology, the movement itself, how it functions. ’Cause it’s kind of this different format of, you know, a social movement that nobody had really seen before. So there’s lots of there, there– there’s lots of source material and even stuff on her newspapers. So Nancy Roberts wrote a whole book on Dorothy Day’s journalism. But I, I also really feel strongly that, you know, after – this was all published pretty shortly after her death in 1980, and so much has changed since 1980.
00:22:11 Our understanding of what the Catholic Church looks like today has changed. Our understanding of women as journalists has changed since 1980. Our understanding of doing critical analysis from a feminist lens has certainly changed since 1980 and I just really felt that, you know, after Pope Francis came and spoke in front of Congress and mentioned her as one of the four greatest Americans, with her being up for canonization, with this source material that wasn’t used, I just really felt that if I didn’t do it, someone else would. And that someone really needed to kind of take these new approaches, these new lenses, these new ways of analyzing new material, and do something with it. Because, you know, it just seems like the time was right to re-approach this.
Nick Hirshon: 00:23:01 Sure. And now that we’ve kind of set the scene there and we understand who she was, the Catholic Worker and why you got so interested in it, let’s dive into some of her reporting and her ways, unique ways maybe in running this newspaper. So you talk about how the Catholic Worker featured the reporting of Dorothy Weston and Eileen Corridon, who was listed on the masthead as an assistant editor, but that Day often tried to discourage women from writing for the paper and working full time in the movement. And that’s something that might surprise some listeners or readers of your piece. So why do you think she was discouraging women sometimes from writing for the paper?
Bailey Dick: 00:23:41 So I think she knew the kind of barriers that women in newspapers faced because she had undergone them herself. So she was also a single mother. She had a daughter in 1926 who was kind of the center of her life. She had lived in community before. She knew how hard that is. So imagine you living in, you know, essentially a tenement in the Bowery in New York with a whole bunch of other strangers, many of whom are homeless. And a lot of these people were college-educated, middle class. She, she knew how hard that kind of lifestyle was in addition to, you know, the difficulties these women would have with getting credibility from sources or getting credibility for people that are interviewing as a female newspaper reporter. She knew how hard that was, and she knew what kind of sacrifices that required. And she knew the kind of attitudes that people had towards women in the workplace, let alone women in the newspaper industry. So I think it was a sense of protection that she felt towards these women given her own real-world life experiences.
Nick Hirshon: 00:24:49 Sure. Well, I think that was one of the many kind of surprising parts of your piece as I was reading through it, because you just assume that as a pioneer among women journalists, Catholic journalists, that she would be encouraging them, but maybe in a way that isn’t immediately obvious, but through your keen analysis of her papers and understanding of who she is, you know, you really get to know a person in a way when you’re going through their archive in the way that you did and going through all of her deeply personal essays, you kind of get to understand them a little bit more, I think, through that. So which leads to another kind of contradiction, I guess you could say, about Dorothy Day that you bring up in your paper – whether she was a feminist. And you right that she never identified as a feminist. She disapproved of many aspects of the second wave feminist movement that emerged toward the end of her life. But you also say that she exhibited her response to an understanding of suffering that could be understood as feminist in a contemporary context. So what do you mean there and would you term her as a feminist, or what do you make of this whole contradiction she had about whether she was a feminist or not?
Bailey Dick: 00:25:51 So this is the question that I get asked about Dorothy more than any other question. So, looking at this historically, and looking at the time she lived in, particularly towards the end of her life, with the emergence of the second-wave feminist movement, what being a feminist meant like at that time – she in fact told people she flat out was not a feminist. And I, I think it’s because she was so far beyond what the description of what a feminist was at the time in which she lived, that it didn’t make sense for her to be called a feminist, right? So she had this really nuanced understanding of the ways that race and class and gender interplayed with each other that feminists at the time didn’t have. So she was almost like intersectional before intersectionality even existed as a term. So I, I think when she saw that a lot of the women in the second-wave feminist movement were trying to make equality rather than equity the goal.
00:27:01 So equality in that, let’s say we want what men have because we see that as the standard that we need to be meeting. She didn’t see that as a goal to be achieved. She saw justice as a goal to be achieved, which is something you see today in modern feminist, you know, ideology, that rather than we as women should want what men have, we as women should want justice, whatever that looks like, and not be holding ourselves to patriarchal male standards. So given all of that, I, I think that for the context in which she lived, she was just so far beyond what the understanding of feminism was at the time that it didn’t make sense for her to call herself a feminist. But all that being said, looking back, can we understand her actions, her writing the way in which she structured her newspaper and her movement? Can we understand her understanding of, like, Marian theology to be feminist? Can we understand her inclusion of black people in her stories and her writing and the leadership of her organization to be intersectionally feminist? Totally. I just think, you know, at the time it absolutely would not have made sense for herself to call herself a feminist.
Nick Hirshon: 00:28:22 I think it’s so interesting when we as historians are looking back and almost, you know, assigning our own ideas, right, of what a person, how they would fit into a current climate, and how they identify that maybe they didn’t realize they were ahead of the time in some way or behind the times in another way. So it’s interesting to kind of see this person as they were and you have a lot of great compelling anecdotes and quotes in your study that I think provide that narrative thread. And I just want to relay one here and then get your kind of opinion on what this says about her personality. Obviously you thought it was important enough that you included it. So you say, as legend has it, two nuns came to visit the Catholic Worker and pay homage to its founder, Dorothy Day.
00:29:03 They found her sitting at her typewriter with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth and a beret on her head. One of the sisters having heard a legend about day, asked her, is it really true that you live on only the blessed sacrament? And Day paused, looked up at the nuns, and said, “Hell no!” So of course we’re not thinking usually about someone who is under consideration to be a Catholic saint for responding to nuns with “Hell no,” with themes that, there’s a few other moments like that in your study where you mentioned some of the words that she’s using or just the way that she handles herself that aren’t, I don’t know, what maybe a priest would describe as the most Catholic way of acting or whatever. She was certainly imagining herself in a different way. So why did you include that anecdote? What do you think it says about who she was?
Bailey Dick: 00:29:48 That she’s human. And I think in a way that can be understood to be incredibly holy in and of itself. And I think that’s why so many people are drawn to her. So she’s, she’s so real. You know, that’s something that people could, like, if two nuns came up to you and said, “Is it really true? You live only on the Blessed Sacrament?” What would you say? You’d say “hell no,” you know, I eat all kinds of stuff and not just the Eucharist, you know. So I, I think she’s just so real and so unconventional in a way that that’s what draws people to her. They see themselves in her and in her normalness in a sense, in the way that she is real in a way that, you know, growing up, going to Catholic school or, you know, growing up, going to youth group, you know, all the nice girls wanted to be Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who was nice and quiet and did things in a little way. Well, this is somebody who does stuff in a big way. She chain-smokes and tells nuns “hell no,” and she’s still going to be a saint. So I think that’s holy in, in a different way that it’s bringing people to her into the truth ultimately, which is what her goal was.
Nick Hirshon: 00:31:01 Sure. I think it definitely makes her seem so real and vivid when the readers of your article are going to be going through it. Sometimes it’s hard, just from personal papers that you’re looking through at Marquette, it’s hard to really get a good idea of who the person is, but I think you’ve done a really good job in this piece of kind of making her seem like someone who is with us in the room as we read that. And you kind of go through three main themes in your article. So if you can just give us a little bit more context here. First you explore the fluidity and adaptive ways in which she performed her female gender in her work and social spaces. So you say that she emphasized her gender when it helped her. I think some of this is very familiar probably to a lot of women. I, I’ve heard this kind of idea bandied about before, but she emphasized her gender when it helped her. She deemphasized it when she could use it toward her advantage as a journalist and a reformer. And obviously in creative, unique sort of ways that made her a success. So what did you find here in this first theme?
Bailey Dick: 00:32:02 Yeah, so I think like you were saying, as someone who has been, you know, one of the only women working in a newsroom this is someone I know, something I know well, so she kind of is the queen of playing the long game in that she knew if she could, you know, the more feminine or be kind of self-deprecating in the moment, but if she knew that was going to get her a gain for her movement and for justice in the long run, she was willing to do that. So for example you know, she would go into the office of the Archbishop and kind of say, you know, “Sure, Archbishop, whatever you want, here’s what we’re doing. Let me talk about Jesus for a minute.” You know, and, but ultimately I’m going to defer to you, would give these men a sense that they were in power when really they weren’t. So she would kind of emphasize her gender, you know, and emphasize masculinity in a sense to get her gains in the long run, if that makes sense.
00:33:05 So she could also like get, a little, like, self-deprecating and like a little self-effacing in a sense that she would make people feel, you know, say, “Oh, but I’m just a woman, what do I know?” But would do it in a way that would make the people who she was saying that to really consider what they were saying to her and make them really kind of critically think about why she was being self-deprecating. So I think the ways in which she kind of downplayed her own gender and played up the masculinity of others kind of was really smart and really clever and really strategic and kind of gave her an upper hand in the long run. So while it may have hurt in the moment and while she may have, you know, been doing things offhandedly to kind of deemphasize her power as a woman, she was doing it really strategically in the long run for her movement.
Nick Hirshon: 00:34:02 And again, in a way that probably a lot of listeners have maybe done themselves or have seen others – so I think this is part of what, again, you say makes her so human and relatable as we’re going through these themes. Another theme that you examined is how she altered her gender performativity within the church over time, beginning with more radical and confrontational approaches and later or more traditional conformative approaches as understanding of church teaching evolved. And I guess you were just talking about that kind of conformity or at least a deference to church leaders at times and saying, “Oh, sure, I’ll lend my expertise, but you of course are the expert,” and making them feel a little bit more comfortable that the gender norms are not changing or the church hierarchy was not changing. She wasn’t trying to be too radical there, so can you speak just on the evolution a little?
Bailey Dick: 00:34:48 Yeah, so what gained her that credibility over time was her strict adherence to never directly disobeying the hierarchical Catholic Church or church teaching. So in the beginning she could be a little bit more radical because she didn’t have that clout with the church yet. So she was more direct in her confrontation and negotiation with members of the church hierarchy, bishops, archbishops. She could, you know, assign articles that were more directly confrontational of what the church official was saying and back it up with church teaching. So there were times, of course, and we know this still today, where members of church leadership weren’t doing things on the up and up, where there were church officials who were saying things that were directly contradictory to church teaching. And she would kind of call these people to task on it in her newspaper and say, “Look, we’re gonna to cite this here, here, and here, in this papal encyclical or here and here in scripture.”
00:35:50 Here’s why this isn’t actually in line with what the church teaches. And later on when, you know, at the end of her career, before her death, the church officials had then seen, she had gotten their attention through her radical stuff by calling them out by proving that she could be right about church teaching. And so she settled in then and used the kind of clout that she had developed over time and, you know, shown her chops to be in line with church teaching over 50 years that she didn’t have to be as radical or confrontational towards the end of her life ’cause she saw people kind of getting in line with what she believed in. Especially after the Second Vatican Council in the ’60s.
Nick Hirshon: 00:36:31 And the last major theme that you explored here, her later status as a respected female leader in both church and movement spaces. And again, these are all kind of molding together. You’re describing them as we’re talking about previous anecdotes and themes, but you say over time she came to be one of the nation’s and indeed the world’s most respected Catholic figures. And you kind of recall this quote from a fellow Catholic journalist, Donald Campion who said, quote, “Suddenly you found yourself talking with a bishop or theologian from Africa and Australia and discovered that the first stop he had made in the States on his way home from the seminary days in Rome, just before World War II, was to the Worker house” to see Day, or because they had heard of Day’s work. So indeed, the opening of your paper describes this kind of funny scene, or certainly very provocative scene that certainly makes us think about her standing because the scene shows her speaking to a group of twenty bishops and she’s nervous about this, as anyone would be. But they’re almost falling over themselves to help her with a problematic microphone. And there’s kind of like this mutual respect, or they each want to impress the other. So you talked a little bit about, you know, how she was radical at the start, led more to conformity later once she had her standing in church. How did her place in the church change over the years? It would seem like breaking into the church, not only for a, of course, it’s even more miraculous for a woman in that era, but just for anybody to come from, you know, the common life and emerge as such a leader in the church, and it takes a lot of, I don’t know, time, luck, skill. So how did that change happen over the years?
Bailey Dick: 00:38:11 I think she’s just wickedly, politically smart. And that she knew, like I said, she’s the queen of playing the long game. So she knew that if she was in practice, both in her newspaper and in the way she ran this movement, adhere it to the letter of the law, she could kind of push people to think and expand their thinking about what justice looked like within the confines of actual traditional church teaching. So take pacifism for example. So you know, before Dorothy, you know, there’s this just war theory that particularly during World War II, she lost a lot of support for the paper and subscribers when she adhered to a strict pacifist stance that United States nor anyone should enter war because it involves killing and that directly goes against the Ten Commandments, right? So, but the Catholic Church hierarchy advocated for just war theory, which essentially states that there is a just cause for us to go to war.
00:39:16 Like, you know, eradicating Nazis from Germany, like that would be a just reason to go to war. And she saw that killing of any kind was evil and she adhered to this pacifist stance her entire life. And the Catholic Worker still is a pacifist paper today. And that was something that the church hierarchy initially really pushed back against. Even other Catholic publications were kind of adverse to this idea of, you know, strict pacifism. But, you know, after she died in the 1980s as the Cold War kind of ramped up, she kind of got other bishops and other church leaders behind this idea of pacifism at a time when war seemed kind of imminent. So if you could just see, like, that’s just one example of how she really kind of revolutionized how the church hierarchy thought about the rules. And particularly thought about lay leadership within the Catholic Church. Particularly after Vatican Two, particularly after there was a greater emphasis placed on the laity and, like, the Catholic faithful and you know, everyday Catholics having the potential to be leaders after the Second Vatican Council. She was kind of the poster child for that, if you will, of someone who really exemplified what it meant to be a Catholic lay leader.
Nick Hirshon: 00:40:34 And you have an anecdote here that I think really speaks to that, that even though she was able to rise up in the American church, she still maybe had a lower standing or wasn’t really on the radar of the Vatican or the international church in this way. So in 1967 you described her being asked to attend the World Lay Congress in Rome. And they originally were going to have her go as an expert for the event, accredited that way. But she noted in a letter that she wanted “to go just as a journalist and pilgrim.” But that meant that while she was there as an expert, she was not always treated as such because of her gender. And when she and the other women striking for peace were sent to travel to a papal audience on a bus, she was surprised that the women’s group was being handled in the same way as the visiting school children who had gathered from all over Europe to visit the Vatican during the holiday.
00:41:22 And it was in that moment that she came to understand the differences that her political influence had had in the States and in the Vatican. And one scholar put it this way, “In the United States, Dorothy was a presence to be reckoned with and she had more than a few opportunities to make her positions known to the officers of her church. In Rome, she was voiceless and she knew it. That was an audience she would not take on.” So do you think that her story also speaks sometimes to the limits there of either women or just an everyday Catholic? You know, you may be able to make a lot of waves and get media attention, but we’re talking about somebody who was, is being again, considered for sainthood right now. So, obviously somebody who has a standing in the history of the church and yet in her time was still not able to reach that ceiling at the Vatican maybe.
Bailey Dick: 00:42:08 Yeah. And I think that’s still true today. You know, inherently the Catholic Church is a patriarchal institution, both in terms of its structure, like there’s a very hierarchical structure, and in terms of its leadership. There’s male leadership both on the parish level, right? So there’s like a male parish priest, but no women. And also on the, you know, broader, hierarchical level. The pope is a male. The pope will always be a male. So just in that, you know, Dorothy Day is never gonna be the pope. So there are some limits to – at least in name – what positions women can hold. But when you look at Dorothy Day and like the impact that she had, she was more concerned about changing individual perspectives, changing individual hearts, expanding people and their idea of what they think of as Catholic or normal or justice on an individual level.
00:43:01 And that’s really where she met people, is one on one. And so, you know, I think she, she also said, you know, when she’s, she’s going into the Vatican, she just wanted to go as a, as a journalist, she just wanted to go as a pilgrim. And you know, when people would ask her about being canonized, she would say, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” So I think she sees the good in individual people and the good in individual relationships that she doesn’t need to be seen as a high-ranking expert or leader or have a title. She doesn’t need to be a saint. She doesn’t need to be an expert. She doesn’t need to be there as a leader. She just needs to be having those really impersonal or, like, really personal one-on-one interactions with people where she’s expanding their hearts and their minds. She wants everybody to be able to do that as well. So like she doesn’t want to be, like, the exemplar of what a good Catholic is. She wants every single individual person to be doing that for themselves too. Like, she doesn’t see herself as any different than anybody else.
Nick Hirshon: 00:44:10 And that’s really interesting then in the context of her candidacy for sainthood because you’ve mentioned a few times now, there’s a movement underway to canonize Dorothy Day as a Catholic saint and the New York Post reported a few years ago the movement began in 1997 by John Cardinal O’Connor of New York. He was collecting testimonials of people who were witness to her life of prayer and faithfulness. And your article quotes a homily in which O’Connor remarks that, quote, “The more reading I’ve done, the more saintly a woman she seems to me.” Only three other American-born Catholics have been canonized. We’ve talked about how she would be maybe in some ways an unusual saint, certainly because of her American background, but also because of her stances, the language she used, the way she acted. Although you also of course have talked about how it makes her more human. But, you know, do you think she will eventually be canonized? Should she? Is it something that she would have even wanted?
Bailey Dick: 00:45:04 There’s a ton of debate about this. Both is that something she wanted? There are people who are Catholic workers who advocate super strongly for it. There are people who are Catholic workers and advocate really strongly against it, that it would not be something she would have wanted. I, I don’t know even as much of, like, I’ve literally read everything the woman’s written. I don’t know how she would have landed on this issue. Whether she would have liked to have been canonized. My gut says she probably wouldn’t have liked it, but she also probably would be okay with it. I think she just didn’t really like a whole lot of attention being placed on her, to be honest. I think that would be what would put her off of wanting to be a saint, is that she wouldn’t want all the attention placed on her. She’d want the attention being placed on issues of injustice instead.
00:45:54 Should she be, and will she be? Personally gosh, darn it, I hope so. You know, it, it would be kind of selfishly really awesome to see someone you really relate to and really like and really have spent a lot of time researching become a saint both for very selfish personal publication reasons and also because she’s just so cool. She’s just really just the coolest. And to see somebody that you so deeply identify with become a saint that you know, somebody like you, there’s hope for you yet. That would be awesome. But I will say, will she? I think very strongly that if she is to become a saint, it will have to be during Pope Francis’s papacy. I – usually how this goes is after a kind of more progressive papacy, there’s usually a more conservative one.
00:46:44 So you saw with Pope Benedict, who was the last pope, was very conservative, and with Pope Francis you have someone who’s a lot more progressive. So I would say that if she is to become a saint, it would have to be during Pope Francis’s papacy. That being said, she still has to have two miracles. She still has to be considered Blessed. There’s this whole process for this and it takes years and years and years. So I don’t know. I really hope so. I really hope she, she becomes a saint. I think she is a saint. Whether she’s canonized or not, I, I do really believe she’s a saint. The sheer fact that she kept a paper going for fifty years by selling it for a penny copy, that’s a miracle. I think that should count. The fact that I’m still a Catholic because of her, I think that’s a miracle that should count, but I’m not in charge. So we’ll see.
Nick Hirshon: 00:47:38 Well, whether she becomes a saint or not, you’ve certainly discussed how she defies classification. We’ve talked so much about, you know, should she be a saint? Is she a feminist? Was she a feminist? All of these other sorts of classification. You quote in the paper a longtime Catholic worker employee saying that she maintained complex beliefs. He says, quote, “It is still hard for me to be able to classify Dorothy Day. To me, she still remains an enigma dressed up in women’s clothing.” So a question for you: After all this research you’ve described doing, reading all of the books, going through all of her papers, and, again, very deeply personal papers, we’re not just talking about war correspondence, we’re talking about columns where she’s describing personal, deeply held beliefs. You’re really getting to know her as a person. So how would you classify or if you don’t want to classify her, because I understand the issues there, how would you describe her in a, you know, in a, in a few sentences?
Bailey Dick: 00:48:37 Oh gosh. A few sentences. I’ve tried to describe her in like a whole bunch of pages and thousands and thousands and thousands of words. And I don’t know that I’ve still really done it. I think that’s why there’s so many biographies of her. There’s so many. She wrote six autobiographies of herself, you know, in attempts to try to make sense of herself. So I don’t know that she’s describable. Usually, like, the kind of boiler plate is that she’s a radical Catholic activist. She’s a journalist. She founded a movement. She’s up for sainthood. That’s, that’s what you need to know. If, you know, that’s your one sentence about her. But that’s like saying you know, anybody is any one sentence about you, right? So, you know, I could say Bailey is a Ph.D. student. She does research on women in journalism, history, and religion and feminism.
00:49:29 But that doesn’t tell you all there is to know about me, right? Like everyone has these incredibly complex nuance backstories and things that make them them, and things that make them human, and hilarious interactions they have with other people that really just say stuff about them. So I think she, she doesn’t make a great journalism history subject in that she’s hard to classify. She is enigmatic. She’s super complex. She’s super nuanced. She’s not Catholic enough to be radical and she’s not radical enough to be Catholic for people. You know, she doesn’t fit in this box, but I think that tells us a lot about people generally. And I think that she’s a primary example of, like, what we as journalism historians should really be thinking about and doing is that there’s so much more to people than just the records that we find about them or the one letter that we have or one journalism article. Like, that doesn’t tell us the whole story about a person’s life. People’s lives are big and messy and human and complex and enigmatic. You know, all of us are like that. So I don’t know that I can, and I don’t know that any of us should be able to describe anybody in just a couple of sentences. So that’s your non-answer.
Nick Hirshon: 00:50:49 No, sure. I think that’s well said and I think that’s a very fair way of putting it. As you were talking, I was also thinking about even her professional description. We have an idea of a journalist as being a neutral observer of events. Of course, we know there is a thread of journalism that is advocacy, and it seems like she’s kind of reconciling those two roles too, right? She obviously came into journalism not just to be a neutral, fair, “I’m going to get both sides of the story,” and that sort of old-style idea of what is objective journalism. It seemed like she was focusing on her own thoughts sometimes and also covering from a certain, I don’t know if slant is the kind of a negative way of saying it, but from her own point of view. So how do you reconcile that part of her. Is, is she a – and maybe I wonder if that’s why she hasn’t gotten a lot of attention from a traditional journalism historian. But how do you reconcile her as a journalist and an advocate?
Bailey Dick: 00:51:48 Well, I’ve kind of complicated notions of that concept, period. Regardless of her. And you know, I think, I don’t know, when I’m talking to my students about objectivity, you know, they, they all come into journalism wanting to be super-objective and have nothing that they’re gonna contribute and they’re going to be totally objective in their stories. And, you know, maybe when you’re writing a cop story or a fire story, sure, you can be more objective. But I think that we try to take the human out of journalists, both living, deceased, working, non-working, students, professionals. And that’s just not reality. Like, all of us bring who we are and what we believe in and, you know, our own experiences to any kind of writing we do, whether it’s, you know, an academic article or a news article. And I think we really lose out on something when someone has an important perspective to share that contributes to the telling of a story, and we don’t do it, right? So I, I don’t know, I think you see this particularly in like hierarchical, patriarchal news structures, right? So the news industry has historically been made up of men. Who is sitting at most news desks? Men. What do all of these people look like? They’re usually white, right? And so you’ve had this kind of one track way of telling stories for decades and it’s — I don’t know, doing all of us really that much of a service. I think it’s limiting perspectives. It’s limiting how we tell stories. It’s limiting what we understand to be truth. And you see that like playing out today, right, in the “Me Too” era, that there are people who have really nuanced and in-depth perspectives on issues that matter to people. You see this with Black Lives Matter, right? So I, I think that there, when you have an identity, when you have an experience, when you have values that directly impact a story that that really makes it richer and that sharing your perspective on something shares a truth with readership that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten if, you know, a straight, cisgender, white male was just telling the story as opposed to if, you know, a queer, trans person of color is telling the story, right?
Bailey Dick: 00:54:13 So you, you have these like concepts like objectivity that I think are rooted in like a very static way of doing things. And you know, like Dorothy, I think you can kind of slowly nudge and disrupt these things by including your own perspectives and stories and that makes your stories all the richer for it.
Nick Hirshon: 00:54:34 And I think in an era where journalism feels like it’s under attack and certainly politically, but also just in terms of declining circulations and sales of newspapers, declining ratings for TV news, and all of that, maybe that is a new tech that we’re seeing some journalists take of how to relate to their readers, listeners, viewers in different ways. And maybe by sharing more of themselves. And as you say, being human. Sometimes when we see a reporter acting as a shoulder to cry on or showing some emotion themselves, that makes them seem more authentic and more like us. So you’ve already done so much work on Dorothy Day. Do you think that there’s more of that in your future? Are you going to someday write a book about her? Are you going to do a bunch of more articles or how, you know, where do you see yourself going with your research on Dorothy?
Bailey Dick: 00:55:23 Oh, gosh. She’s somebody I kinda can’t get away from, so I feel like, you know, like I said earlier, the time is right. There’s so much gosh-darn material. In a sense I’d be dumb not to keep doing stuff on her. So I’ve got another journal article, another conference paper, just using the material that I’ve gone through already, and there’s still a whole bunch that I have not touched. So to me it seems silly not to do more with her, not to do an update. There’s a book chapter I wrote. That’s coming out. So I’ve already done a lot. But I still feel like there’s so much more to do, especially with the possibility of her canonization. It seems to me silly not to do something. I’d love to, in addition to like the research side of it, because this is something that’s so personal to me, I’d love to write something that’s more nonfiction-y about Dorothy and me and letter writing and I, one of my crazy book ideas that are in a Notes app in my phone. So there’s, there’s lots more to be done. There’s lots more I want to do, but you know, I have to do something called a dissertation in the next year and a half. So we’ll see. It’s in the ten-year plan.
Nick Hirshon: 00:56:36 Sure. Well, I think she obviously had a rich life that you’re able to, you know, go into so much depth then. So that’s excellent for again, the readers and for you yourself when you’re doing this. So a final question, as we thank you so much for coming onto the podcast and sharing all of your views on Dorothy Day, is a kind of broad question that we ask everybody to close out the podcast. And that is, why does journalism history matter? As somebody who has decided to study this, and you just talked about you’re about to embark on a dissertation. In a much broader sense than just about Dorothy Day, why do you think that studying the history of journalism is worthwhile?
Bailey Dick: 00:57:12 Well, I picked journalism history to be 112% honest because I can’t do math and I count on my fingers. I don’t understand fractions as a concept. So anything like mixed methods or beyond that is just not gonna happen for me. So there’s that, but why, why it matters? You know, there’s like the classic, if, you know, we don’t know history, we’re bound to repeat it or whatever, but I don’t know, I think we can learn so much about who we are now from who people were in the past. So, you know, just me and Dorothy, I’ve learned so much about myself just from learning how she dealt with situations with kind of a lot more grace than I’ve been able to, you know. How, how we as human beings can connect to people that lived, you know, ten years, died ten years before we were born.
00:58:04 You know, that there are people in history that we can still be connected to now, I think, is really reassuring that, you know, maybe the world isn’t so different than it used to be. In a good way, and bad ways, in other ways. But there’s that, and I think, you know, journalism matters, storytelling matters. People’s stories matter. You know, there are just so many cool people out there with so much to share and so much for us to learn from. And it’s, it’s a shame if we don’t take up the opportunity to do that. And, like, it’s also just so fun. Like, going to an archive and digging through three thousand pages worth of someone’s handwritten notes from a hundred years ago. Like, that’s mad cool. Like, who else gets to do that? It’s like treasure hunting. And going through and just holding letters from mother Theresa that wrote to her or Thomas Merton in handwritten notes. Like, that’s just so cool. And I, I just think everybody should have the opportunity to go learn about people’s real lives in such, like, a tactile, real, treasure-hunting way. It’s just so cool. Yeah, that was me kind of going off on why journalism history is so cool. Nerded out there for a minute, sorry.
Nick Hirshon: 00:59:20 No, I mean, look, you’re talking to a bunch of people who are listening to this podcast who certainly agree, and to a host in myself who obviously loves that aspect of it too, feeling like you’re a detective, going through archives and oral history interviews and whatever you can find, it’s not all that dissimilar from being a reporter. Any kind of source that can help you figure out what was going on in a time and how was this person thinking and knowing that it’s going to be incomplete, but you can put together a fairly, you hope, accurate portrait of that time, and you have certainly done that in your work on Dorothy Day. And we thank you again so much for joining us today on the Journalism History podcast.
Bailey Dick: Oh yeah. It was a hoot. Thanks so much.
Nick Hirshon: Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Journalism History Podcast, and additional thanks to our sponsor, Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, and to Taylor and Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History. Until next time, I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Good night, and good luck.”