Dorothy Day’s Des Moines Visit -
November, 1952

by Fr. Frank Cordaro

I am currently the temporary pastor for the parishes of St. Mary’s in Guthrie Center and St. Cecilia’s in Panora, IA. After finding out that I was a member of the DM Catholic Worker community, Fern Conrad, a member of St. Cecilia’s parish, brought me a photo of Dorothy Day on the occasion of her visit to Des Moines in 1952. The photo is of Dorothy and Fern. Dorothy is in front of a birthday cake prepared for her. Therefore, we know that the photo was taken near November 8th which is Dorothy’s birthday. However, Fern could not remember the year it was taken.

Dorothy Day and Fern Conrad
I sent the photo to Phil Runkel, the Catholic Worker archivist at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI , and asked him if he could help us nail down the year. Phil loved the photo and said that it was one of the few photos in which Dorothy is smiling. Phil reviewed Dorothy Day’s date books from the 1950s and discovered that she was in Des Moines November 11-12, 1952.

I did a little research and found the articles that appeared in the Des Moines Catholic Messenger, the Des Moines Register and the Spectator (St. Joseph Academy-SJA) high school newspaper). Below are excerpts from those articles.

I also made contact with Amy Millen and Pat Fitzgerald, the two SJA journalist students who interviewed Dorothy for their school paper. Both women are planning on returning to Des Moines this summer for their 50th SJA Class Reunion. We have invited them both to come visit and share with us about their meeting and interviewing Dorothy. We hope to have a follow-up interview with Amy and Pat in the next issue of the via pacis.

Dorothy Day Plans Address on Nov. 11: To Speak to Women’s League
Des Moines Catholic Messenger, November 7, 1952

Dorothy Day, editor of the Catholic Worker, will be the speaker at the general meeting of the Catholic Women’s League, Armistice Day, November 11 at 8 p.m. at the Hoyt Sherman Place.

A lifelong journalist and writer, Miss Day is a convert to Catholicism from communism and has for more than 20 years dedicated herself to teaching and living social justice. She was one of the founders of the first hospitality houses in New York City. An interesting personality, Miss Day points to the love of Christ as the basis of Christian community life.

Mrs. Frank Halpin and her committee members invited league members and friends to hear Miss Day’s message. While in Des Moines, Miss Day will also address the students at St Joseph’s Academy.

Miss Day is the subject of interesting articles to be found in the October 4-11 issues of the New Yorker magazine. Her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, was published this year by Harper and Brothers. Copies of the book will be available at the meeting and Miss Day will autograph any purchases.

Catholic Editor Tells Views On Combating Communism
by Nick Lamberto, Des Moines Register, November 11, 1952

Despite apparent opposition to Russian communism, citizens of this country are “becoming creatures of the state,” Dorothy Day, editor of the Catholic Worker, said here Monday night.

“We have conscription,” Miss Day said, “though many people came to this country to escape conscription. The state has taken over more and more. We should not centralize power in the hands of the state. I am not a rugged individualist or a Republican, but I believe that through unions and co-operatives we could do without centralization of power and industry in hands of the state.”

Miss Day, a 55-year-old New Yorker, is in Des Moines to address the Catholic Women’s League at 8 p.m. today at Hoyt Sherman place. She was dinner guest Monday night at the Carleton Beh home, 5323 Waterbury Road.

Miss Day, with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker movement 20 years ago. This movement is based on communal living and operates 20 farms and houses of hospitality.

Miss Day goes by her professional name, although she is married and has five grandchildren. A tall, gray-haired woman, she winced when her former membership in the communist party was mentioned. “There is only one ex-Communist that I respect,” she said, “He is Douglas Hyde of England. He left Communism, but didn’t embrace capitalism when he left, or turn informer. I was a Communist for 10 years until I joined the Catholic Church in 1927. When I became a Catholic, I quit Communism since the two are incompatible.”

Miss Day admitted that some of those testifying in congressional investigations into Communism were friends of hers. “ I prefer not to talk about my former Communist friends,” she said. “The whole spectacle of their testifying is rather sad. There is too much fear of Communism today.”

Asked if the saying that “once a Communist, always a Communist” were true. Miss Day said, “That’s just fear propaganda.”

“We do use some communal ideas in the Catholic Worker farms and houses of hospitality. We feed 600 persons a day in New York City. Everyone lives in common at these farms and houses of ours, so I guess you might say about me “once a Communist, always a Communist,” Miss Day added jokingly.

Dorothy Day Recommends Prayer In Interview With SJA Journalists
The Spectator, November, 1952

“Prayer is the most important thing in our lives since it is our only contact with God that can never be taken away from us, even though our churches are suppressed and ours schools are closed.” Dorothy Day, social worker and editor of the Catholic Worker, so designated prayer as the bulwark of all lives in an interview granted to Spectator reporters Amy Millen and Pat Fitzgerald at the Millen home last Sunday.

Miss Day commented on the 15 houses of hospitality and five farms in the United States and in England which her group of Catholic Workers maintain, helping to feed, clothe and shelter the poor who have no other place to go. Although there is a need everywhere, Miss Day said that there are no houses of hospitality in Iowa.

Of her life of voluntary poverty, Miss Day spoke in a matter-of-fact manner. (She lives with the poor, eats with the poor and wears the same things that are provided for them.) She was attired in a simple flowered blue crepe dress, black shoes and a black velvet hat. Pinned on her dress was a silver cross set with turquoise.

In speaking of the breakdown of moral standards among youth, the social worker commented that more leisure time and evening activities have contributed to the problem. In the slum areas, crowded conditions and poverty exposed children to vice at an early age. She added, however, that evil is no different among the poor than in society. “Drunkeness may be more brutish in the slums, but it is the same as the refined drinking in the Park Avenue penthouses,” she remarked.

The greatest social problems in the United States, Miss Day thinks, are the war, racial injustice, and the poverty due to these two things. Many of the Catholic Workers associated with her houses of hospitality are pacifists; that is, they are against war. Dorothy Day and her followers believe, “that everyone should take care of their brother or sister and this can not be done if we are killing each other in war. We should not fight Communists, but we should convert them. This issue is the cause of most of the opposition to the Catholic Workers, much of which comes from Catholics.

Miss Day, who addressed the student assembly yesterday at 2 PM, was brought to the city by the Catholic Women’s League. Besides the lectures to the League and to the SJA students, she spoke to the Drake Newman Club and consented to a TV interview over station WOI-TV.