Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Full Irish Breakfast a la New Orleans Creole

"Full Irish Breakfast a la New Orleans Creole"
Photo by Adrian McGrath
My own concoction -- clockwise from top left,
Boudin, New Orleans French bread, fried tomatoes,
Andouille, turkey bacon, ham steak, strawberry
preserves, fried eggs, fried mushrooms, and baked beans

By Adrian McGrath

A traditional Irish breakfast, often called a Full Irish Breakfast, was, and still is, a very large meal indeed. In the past it was eaten on working days; but today it is more of a special occasion meal, morning or night. You may wonder how this huge and very filling dish came about? And why I decided to make my own unusual version of it?

My father, whose background was half Irish and half German, grew up in a small town in Wisconsin on a little dairy farm. He told me that when he was young the family would get up very early every day; and before going to work on the farm, they would have a huge meal. It could consist of eggs, breakfast meats like bacon or ham, pancakes, biscuits, jam, butter, maybe toast, coffee, and maybe oatmeal  -- but certainly not grits. He only later in life discovered grits (a ground cornmeal gruel) when he came to Louisiana and specifically to New Orleans just before World War 2. He was serving in the US Army then during the Louisiana Maneuvers, a very large military exercise to train US soldiers to fight Nazi Germany.

My father's large, farmer's breakfast may have had some fruits and vegetables too, but I am not sure. Being on a dairy farm, his family most likely had lots of dairy products -- milk, eggs, butter, etc. Even during the Great Depression when he was young, they could have traded or bartered dairy products for other food items.

My father from
Wisconsin, Master
Sergeant John N.
McGrath, US Army, circa
1943 (Family photo)
Yes, he ate a large
breakfast as a young farmer in
Wisconsin, just like the
farmers in old Ireland.

So why did they eat so much food for breakfast in rural Wisconsin ? For the same reason the Irish farmers and workers would eat a huge breakfast. A person working in an agricultural or agrarian culture burned a tremendous amount of calories each day. There was intense physical work to do all day long. The farmers needed enough fuel to keep going without stopping. Hence, they needed a large, varied, and nutritious breakfast. Lunch and dinner were less important than breakfast.

On top of this, sometimes mornings could be chilly or cold in Ireland as in Wisconsin. Although winters in Wisconsin could be much colder than in Ireland with frequent freezing weather and even sub zero weather. A large, hot breakfast could help fight off the cold and chill.

Ireland was for a long time an agrarian or agricultural society. So, Irish farmers and workers needed hot, nutritious fuel to eat in Ireland like my father did in rural Wisconsin.

But the Irish people, of course, are essentially an exiled people. Much like the ancient Israelites, they have traveled and found new homelands across the globe. Most people with Irish blood in them live today mainly in one country -- and it is not Ireland. It is the United States. They live mostly in the North East, but they also live in every state in the union. They have adapted Irish ways to their new surroundings.

In that sense I have taken as an experiment this occasion to make my own version of the Full or Traditional Irish Breakfast adding foods from my part of the country -- New Orleans. The original cuisine of New Orleans was called Creole, which is a mixture of the French and Spanish cultures. Nearby New Orleans to the south and west is Acadiana which is usually called Cajun Country. This is a French Canadian culture which developed in the swamps and prairies of south Louisiana when the French Canadians were driven from Nova Scotia by the British during the French and Indian War. (In fact, Cajun history resembles Irish history in many ways.) 

So, I took the basic ingredients of an Irish breakfast and added a few Creole and Cajun items and removed a few traditional items too.

Full Irish version Breakfast
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
From Gus-DLC and Creative Commons

The basic Irish version is made of the following although it varies, of course, from place to place and cook to cook: fried eggs, rashers (Irish style bacon, something like what is called Canadian bacon in the USA), sausages, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, baked beans, and perhaps some type of potato, and maybe Irish soda bread.

The typical drink is hot tea and perhaps orange juice. Additionally, the Irish use something most other cultures do not have called "black and white pudding." This is not pudding like in the USA, but it is more like a type of sausage patty. Black pudding is made partly from animal blood, usually from pig, plus meat and spices. White pudding is a soft sausage sometimes containing oatmeal or some other grain.

Breakfast meats for my version of the
Irish breakfast -- L to R, Boudin, ham steak,
turkey bacon, Andouille
Photo by Adrian McGrath
I decided to change my breakfast and call it an Irish Creole Breakfast (or Full Irish Breakfast a la New Orleans Creole); but it also has aspects of Cajun food. My ingredients include the following: fried eggs, ham steak, American bacon (except I use turkey bacon instead of pork bellies), canned baked beans, fried Roma tomatoes, and fried mushrooms. I removed both the black and white puddings since they are hard to find here. In place of them I included two sausages very popular in the Cajun country -- Andouille (which is a French sausage) and Boudin.

More ingredients for my version:
baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes
Photo by A. McGrath

Boudin is actually related to the Irish white pudding; both are soft sausages that contain grains. Boudin has cooked rice inside its casing along with meat and Cajun seasonings. Irish white pudding usually has oats. 

Instead of soda bread, I used New Orleans French bread. Instead of tea, I used a French roast New Orleans coffee. I also added some strawberry preserves -- strawberries being very plentiful and popular in south Louisiana. This produces a nice sweet and savory taste.

I kept in the tomatoes and the mushrooms, and I believe that is a very good Irish idea to include vegetables. I should have included some type of potato too, but I already had way too much on my plate. If I do it again, I will likely add some mashed, creamed potatoes with butter. Or perhaps add Champ or Irish Potato Cakes.

And that is it. 

Why not give it a try or use whatever local ingredients you have wherever you live to create your own version of an Irish breakfast. 

It is not traditional as in Ireland; but just as the Irish people adapted as they went to new lands, so too Irish foods can adapt and become something exciting and new as well.

Sources and further reading:
An article on the Traditional Irish Breakfast at; Full Breakfast article at

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

When the American Army "Invaded" Ireland

US soldiers in North Ireland, February, 1942
Photo from US Army Signal Corps
and Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian McGrath

The American Army "invaded" Ireland in 1942. Well, it was a friendly invasion; and it was Northern Ireland. But technically speaking, at least a part of the island of Ireland was under the control of a foreign power -- the United States of America.

But unlike the other armed and dangerous men who sailed to Ireland over the many centuries -- the Vikings, the Normans, and the forces of the British Empire -- the Americans were greatly welcomed by the Irish ... and, of course, by the British too. That combination in itself was remarkable.

The American invasion was welcomed because the United States Army had come to prevent Adolf Hitler from invading Ireland with Nazi troops and to prepare for the eventual Allied liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.

The American invasion of Ireland was so popular that some Irish actually fell in love with the American soldiers. Yes, they got married too. About 1,800 marriages occurred between Irish women and American soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland. 

Many couples sailed off to the USA after the war to take up  new lives. Some had other fates. We do not know exactly how many of these young American husbands died fighting the Germans. The average age of a US soldier in Northern Ireland was about 24 years old. (About 400,000 American soldiers died in all of World War 2.)

A dance and party on St. Patrick's Day,
March 17, 1942 in North Ireland
Irish women in uniform and American GIs
Photo from US Army Signal Corps
and Wikimedia Commons
Note the warning poster on the bulletin board
with instructions in case of a poison gas attack.

The Americans built military camps in N. Ireland for training and for preparations for battles and campaigns against the Germans, and they eventually saw combat in North Africa, Italy, the D-Day Invasion, and the Liberation of Europe.

Additionally, the US had a major Army Air Force base at Langford Lodge, east of Lough Neagh near the city of Belfast. Literally thousands of US aircraft gathered or passed through Langford for the air war against Nazi Germany. (See more here at the Ulster Aviation Society. And see American Air Museum Britain.) 

A type of American aircraft used at Langford Lodge,
a P38 Lightning, fighter bomber. The Lockheed
Company, which made the P38, helped run the base.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
The Americans eventually came to N. Ireland in tremendous numbers; and although they could occasionally cause trouble and be a nuisance, there is no doubt that they were welcomed. One reason was the Germans actually had a plan to invade Ireland early in the war. It was called Operation Green (Fall Gruen). It was to occur in conjunction with the German plan to amphibiously invade Britain called Operation Sealion (Unternehmen Seeloewe). 

Operation Green never occurred because Sealion was prevented mainly because the Royal Air Force (British RAF) stopped the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in the Battle of Britain in 1940, two years before the Americans arrived. But no one really knew for sure if the Germans would or could invade Britain or Ireland. 

Northern Ireland was controlled by Great Britain then and militarily active during the war, while the south of Ireland -- today called the Republic of Ireland -- was neutral. (How the island of Ireland got divided in two is another long, long story. Read about that at my article on the Easter Rising.)

Hitler's main attention was on an eventual war against the Soviet Union, a desire for Lebensraum or living space. The Germans, however, certainly remained a threat to Britain and N. Ireland with air power and later in the war with special "wonder weapons" like long range rockets -- the V1 buzzbomb and the very futuristic V2. 

Indeed in April and May of 1941 there was something called the Belfast Blitz where Nazi airplanes bombed the city and other parts of N. Ireland. About 1000 people were killed; and over 1,500 people were wounded -- primarily civilians. It should be added that, although a neutral state, Ireland (the South) was also hit be a few German bombs, and there were casualties and property damage and a some deaths, under 100. The typical explanation was navigational error, but it could also have been a Nazi warning to the Irish in the south not to aid the people in the north. 

The terrible results of a German air raid in Belfast,
N. Ireland in 1941. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The name of the American invasion of N. Ireland was called Operation Magnet. Magnet was first devised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when Churchill visited Washington DC in late December of 1941. 

US troops on special secret missions had been coming to N. Ireland even before the official American entry into World War 2, before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Specialists came to plan and to assist in the Lend-Lease mission. (Lend Lease was a plan of President Franklin Roosevelt's to help supply Britain with needed war equipment.) The placement of US troops into N. Ireland was actually the first overseas deployment of American troops in force in World War 2.

American soldiers being transported
to Ireland in January, 1942
Photo from US Army Signal Corps, photo #145230
Also see
N. Ireland was seen as critical for the Battle of the Atlantic. This was a sea campaign to keep to supply lines open from the United States to Britain. Ships would land in N. Ireland. German U-Boats (submarines) and some German surface ships, like the infamous Bismarck, threatened these sea lanes.

It is believed that eventually about 300,000 American soldiers came to N. Ireland during the war. This represented about 10 percent of the population of N. Ireland. So, Northern Ireland was becoming Americanized to some extent. The American soldiers guarded the country, so that that the British troops could leave and be deployed to various places around the globe. Britain would eventually fight the Japanese in the Far East as well as the Germans and Benito Mussolini's Fascist army.

One of the interesting and positive facts of the US deployment of soldiers in N. Ireland concerns African American servicemen. Although there was still much discrimination and indeed legalized segregation in the USA, the African American soldiers stationed in N. Ireland were welcomed by the Irish and treated properly without discrimination. 

An example of this is the friendly treatment of sailors from the USS Mason, a Navy destroyer. Its crew was mainly African American -- only one of two US Navy ships with mainly African American crews. It was originally from Boston, Massachusetts but based in Belfast. The USS Mason saw action in the North Atlantic protecting supply convoys. 

Reportedly, some of the USS Mason African American sailors once had liberty (a day off) in the city of Derry. They went into town apprehensive about how they would be treated. They discovered that they were respected and treated politely and well by the Irish people, with far better treatment than they often received at home in the segregated USA.

Discrimination existed in the segregated US military, and African Americans were typically assigned to menial work. The skilled positions on the USS Mason (and the USS PC-1264, a submarine chaser) were exceptions to the rule and even experimental.

USS Mason (DE 529), a US Navy destroyer escort which protected
Allied supply ships in the North Atlantic from Boston
to Belfast among other duties. It and one other ship
were the only US Navy ships which had largely
African American crews.
Photo from the US Navy and Wikimedia Commons
Famous American generals came to N. Ireland as well. Among the important leaders who came were George S. Patton, "old blood and guts," and, of course, the man who would lead all of the Allied troops at the D-Day Normandy Invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower ("Ike"), who later became a US president.

American leaders in the European Theater
of Operations in World War 2, 1945, many of whom, including
Eisenhower and Patton were in Ireland in 1942.
Photo from US Army, National Archives, and Wikimedia
Commons. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower is seated in the middle
of the first row. Gen. George S. Patton, wearing a helmet, is on the
first row, second from the left. 

Ike went to Enniskillen in Fermanagh in May of 1944. The General visited US soldiers who were about to invade the German Atlantic Wall on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Many of the US troops were stationed at a place called Celtic Park in Enniskillen and at Portora Royal School. (A playing field there, where US soldiers once marched and drilled, was later named after General Eisenhower. See more here.)

The first US Army unit to arrive in force was the 34th Division, called "Red Bull Division." It came in January, 1942 from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York to Belfast. Reportedly a German U-Boat attempted to attack the American transport ship, but it was defeated by a US Navy ship. The Americans were met by cheering Irish people and a musical band as the GIs disembarked from the transport vessel called the Chateau Tierry and a sister ship called the Stratford.
American soldiers building a steel hut
in Ireland in 1942 for US soldiers
Photo 138660 from US Army Signal Corps,

The first American officially to enter N. Ireland was a soldier from Minnesota named Milburn H. Henke. The first official American unit was Company B, 133rd Infantry Regiment from the 34 Division of the Minnesota National Guard.

It is interesting to note that the US government issued US soldiers booklets about how to behave in N. Ireland. These were called US War Office Pocket Guides. The booklets told the Americans not to brag and boast, how to behave and not to behave towards the locals -- and towards Irish women too -- and what to talk about and what not to talk about. The guides also mentioned the special relationship America had (and still has with Ireland) since many Americans have an Irish ancestry -- from North and South Irish, and Catholic and Protestant Irish.

The guide booklets ended with two pieces of simple and very sage advice, emphasizing this applied especially to Ireland: 1. do not argue religion, 2. do not argue politics.  Yes, some very good advice from the US War Office from back in 1942.

US Army Signal Corps Photo 132954
US soldiers in Northern Ireland on
maneuvers, preparing for war, 1942

An interesting footnote for military history buffs is this. The American soldiers could have been given the newer style steel helmet used throughout most of World War 2 by the American

military, but they were deliberately issued the old World War 1 style American "tin hats" which, in fact, resemble British helmets. The reason was that it was feared that the local civilians and the home guard in N. Ireland would not recognize the newer American helmets and think the American soldiers were invading German soldiers, since the newer helmets looked more like German helmets than the British helmets or the World War 1 "tin hats." 

Ultimately, this is what the American soldiers
in N. Ireland were preparing for, and things like this --
D-Day, June 6, 1944 at Normandy, France.
Photo "Into the Jaws of Death" taken by US Coast Guard
Chief Photographer's Mate Robert F. Sargent in a LCVP
landing craft (Higgin's Boat) -- Company E, 16th Infantry,
1st Infantry Division, Big Red One, US Army -- Fox Green, Omaha Beach.
Omaha Beach was the most heavily defended invasion beach on D-Day.
The well experienced German 352 Division was dug in. The Americans
suffered over 2,000 casualties on Omaha Beach on D-Day, but they prevailed.

Sources and Further Reading: US government documents on the Irish mission, see this; "The Yanks are Coming" from; "American Troops Arrive in Northern Ireland" -- article at; US Army website about the Irish in the US army. About the USAAF in N. Ireland at the Ulster Aviation Society .

Monday, February 11, 2019

Duffy's Cut: Death by Prejudice

The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad,
depot in Philadelphia, 1854
From Wikimedia Commmons

By Adrian McGrath

In the early 19th century, many Irish fled their British-occupied native land because of extreme poverty and political oppression. Irish Catholics and non-Church of England Protestants had been persecuted under the British Penal Laws for many years; the Irish were denied fundamental human rights by law. It seemed better to risk a difficult life overseas than certain despair in Ireland.

Irish Celtic Cross Memorial,
New Orleans, honoring the
Irish who died digging the New
Basin Canal, 1832 to 1838
Photo by A. McGrath

In 1832 some Irish went to New Orleans to dig the New Basin Canal. This was a dangerous and difficult job digging a large trench in a disease-infested swamp without the use of modern machinery. Thousands of Irish died in the process from 1832 to 1838. 

This tragedy was an example of what awaited Irish immigrants when they first arrived in America.

Signs read "No Irish Need Apply," in many large American port cities indicating the Irish were not wanted -- they were not wanted as neighbors or as workers. In fact, in the early 19th century the impoverished Irish immigrants were not welcomed at all in most places in America initially.

Prejudice was the reason for the anti-Irish hostility -- fear of immigrants, fear of poverty-stricken people, fear of desperate people, and above all a fear of and animosity towards Catholics. It was fear, but it was also hate. That was the nature of prejudice -- fear plus hate.

The Irish immigrants were, therefore, reduced to taking the dirty and dangerous jobs that nobody else wanted.

Irish immigrants arriving in the 19th century in America
(Boston, 1857) From Wikimedia Commons and
the Smithsonian

So it came as no surprise that when the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad wanted to expand westward from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania over treacherous, rough terrain -- ravines, broken ground, hills, and streams, a place called Mile 59 -- it sought out cheap, expendable, unskilled laborers who were desperate for any type of work just to survive. The railroad company wanted laborers who, if they got severely injured or killed on the job, nobody would notice much or care about.  In short, the railroad company wanted the Irish.

A song about anti-Irish
prejudice called
"No Irish Need Apply"
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The railroad turned to a man named Philip Duffy, an Irish contractor, who could gather up immigrants desperate enough to do the job. Duffy got 57 men from Ulster (the North of Ireland) -- from Derry, Donegal, and Tyrone counties. Some were young and apparently strong, and they could do the job.

But within a few weeks after they started the hard, physical work, all 57 Irish immigrants were dead. The railroad company claimed they died of a disease rampant in the area -- cholera.

Cholera is an bacterial infection of the small intestines resulting in severe diarrhea, vomiting, horrible cramps, and eventually, if untreated, death. It also indicates that the patient probably has lived in poor and unsanitary living conditions.

 The unfortunate men were buried in graves -- some in groups, some as individuals -- near the work site in the rough Pennsylvania countryside -- in East Whiteland Township. They were buried and forgotten.

But ... then came the mystery.

Two brothers, in the 1990s, made a discovery based on documents from a relative who once worked for the railroad. The brothers were Reverend Dr. Frank Watson, a Lutheran pastor, and Dr. William Watson, a professor of history at Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.

Over time a research team grew from many disciplines -- mixing scientists and engineers with historians, among others. The team went to the site where the Irish immigrants worked and lived in shanties or primitive huts or cabins. ("Shanty," by the way, comes from two Irish Gaelic words -- "sean" which means old and "teach" which means house.)

The researchers found evidence that, while many or even most of the men did die from cholera, some most probably were the victims of blunt force trauma (meaning their skulls were smashed in by a club or hard object) and some were probably shot with 19th century projectiles (firearms, guns). This leads us to believe that the deaths, in some cases, were not just the unfortunate result of a dreadful disease and/or even possibly abusive living and working conditions, but were the result of deliberate murder.

Breton Railroad Depot in Philadelphia, 1832
Photo from Wikimedia Commons,
Townsend Ward

On top of this the evidence would indicate that the railroad company and perhaps the political powers-that-be knew of the crime and intentionally covered up the murders. The mentality then was this: who cares if some poor Irish immigrants were killed?

Why were the Irish immigrants probably murdered? No one really knows, assuming they were in fact murdered, as the evidence strongly suggests. But part of the reason could be prejudice, a hostility towards the Irish and Catholics. Part could also be the result of irrational fear about epidemics and cholera in general. Kill the Irish and kill the disease, some foolish and hateful people may have thought.

It is also likely that a fight or small battle occurred between anti-Irish vigilantes and the Irish workers, since the Irish usually do not take such matters like oppression lying down and typically rebel against them. But this is, of course, speculation.

The railroad company would not want news of such a fight taking place -- bad for business and bad for acquiring more Irish labor in the future.

The mystery at Duffy's Cut has attained some notoriety. The state of Pennsylvania placed a marker at the work and grave site in June 2004 saying that 57 Irish immigrant workers died there in August of 1832 from cholera, that Duffy was the contractor, and that prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to their deaths due to a lack of medical care and poor living conditions. 

"The Enclosure" at Duffy's Cut near Malvern,
Pennsylvania, where the remains of many workers lie,
a mass grave memorial built probably in 1909, with stones
likely from the 1832 events Photo from Wikimedia Commons,
by "smallbones" license to Creative Commons
In 2012 the remains of a few of the workers (sometimes called "Navvies" for navigational engineers) were properly re-buried at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, PA -- thanks to researchers from Immaculata University who discovered the bodies' remains.

Immaculata University,
near Malvern, Pennsylvania
Photo in public domain
from Wikimedia Commons
and "smallbones"

The remains of one body was identified as likely being a young man named John Ruddy, who was only about 18 years old in 1832. Ruddy was from Donegal, and his remains were delivered back to Ireland in a proper ceremony for re-burial in Ireland in 2013. So John Ruddy returned to Ireland after 181 years.

The bones of a woman who was likely Catherine Burns were also returned to Ireland and buried in 2015.

Although the callous mentality of the day in 1832 could not have cared less about the tragic deaths, or the horrendous and probable murders of some destitute Irish immigrants, at least some people in modern times did care. Thanks to the dedicated researchers and the experts from Immaculata University, Duffy's Cut will be remembered.

Of special note Duffy's Cut was remembered by a special program by PBS (the Public Broadcasting System in the USA) called "Secrets of the Dead: Death on the Railroad." See Secrets of the Dead.

Also, the famous Irish musician Christy Moore made a song about Duffy's Cut. See Duffy's Cut.

Furthermore, see this excellent site from Immaculata University with much detailed information on the story of the Irish and Duffy's Cut. See Duffy's Cut.

Sources and Further Reading:
Wall Street Journal article called The Mystery of Duffy's Cut.
Wikipedia article on Duffy's Cut; Christy Moore's song. Immaculata University's site on Duffy's Cut.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Irish Women Activists Trilogy: Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day in 1934
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian McGrath

(Editor's Note: This is the third and final part of our trilogy on Irish Women Activists. You can read about the others at this link. This goes to the story on Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, which in turn links to the first story on Mother Jones.)

When he visited the United States in September of 2015, Pope Francis addressed the US Congress and spoke about some of the American citizens he felt were the most significant for the great works they did in their lives. He mentioned Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the monk philosopher Thomas Merton.

Pope Francis visits the USA and
praises Americans who worked
for human rights, listing Dorothy Day
along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr,
and Thomas Merton, the monk philosopher, 2015
Photo from Wikimedia Commons and US government

Pope Francis named one other person, who might not be as well known publicly. Her life's works, however, were outstanding and represent the best that the Christian faith, and specifically Roman Catholicism, have to offer. This person Pope Francis praised was a woman named Dorothy Day. The Pope specifically recognized what he called her "passion for justice."

Dorothy Day was born in 1897 in Brooklyn Heights in New York City. Her father was of Irish descent, while her mother was of English descent. (The name "Day" is an English version of the old Irish Gaelic name "O Deaghaidh.") Dorothy was born into an Episcopal home.

Dorothy got an early taste of how social activism can help people in need after her family moved to San Francisco where her father worked as a sports writer and journalist. Her family lived through the terrible 1906 earthquake in the Bay Area which destroyed much of San Francisco and left many people in dire conditions and seriously affected the Day family. She saw how lives could be affected and yet improved when neighbors, during times of trouble, helped other neighbors in need. The Day family, like many others in San Francisco, suffered from the earthquake's aftermath; her father lost his job.

Aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake, 1906
Dorothy Day's family survived the earthquake,
but her father lost his job and the family became poor.
Photo from US Archives and Wikimedia Commons

After the family relocated to Chicago, where they now lived in a working class area, Dorothy began to educate herself by reading. She read about people in need and people who were being oppressed. She read books like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which dealt with the oppression of workers in the meat packing industry and which discussed socialism and anarchy as a response.

She studied the works of Peter Kropotkin, a Russian intellectual who advocated social reforms; and she began to focus on Russian literature, which had both a social and religious message. Especially she read the works of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodr Dostoevsky. Her reading made her more and more interested in social activism as a solution to poverty and oppression.

Leo Tolstoy at his desk, 1908
His writings on pacifism
influenced Dorothy Day
Photo from Library of Congress
and Wikimedia Commons

Dorothy received a formal education at the University of Illinois at Urbana Campaign, focusing on literature; but she left school after two years and moved to New York. Her main interest was in social work with a religious overtone.

In New York City she lived in the Lower East Side near the Bowery; this area was at that time a home for immigrants and the working class. She took jobs as a writer for several socialist and activist newspapers. Her political philosophy was a mixture of socialism, anarchism (partly based on the writings of Tolstoy), and Syndicalism -- a type of socialism mixed with a support of labor unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW. (Note that both Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Mother Jones, the other two members of our trilogy on women activists, were also associated with the IWW.)

Dorothy Day in 1916
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

She became an activist herself for women's suffrage and was in fact arrested in a protest march for women's rights. She stayed in jail for 16 days and went on a hunger strike.

She lived for a while in Greenwich Village and adopted a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle. She met and had a close relationship with the Irish American writer Eugene O'Neill. It is likely that O'Neill influenced her. O'Neill helped her to see the importance of spirituality and religion in social activism.

Eugene O'Neill, the Nobel
Prize recipient and playwright, with
whom Dorothy Day had a relationship
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In New York she became friends with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Flynn and Dorothy became life-long friends, and there was mutual admiration. They agreed on a common goal -- helping the poor and the oppressed. But they differed on the means to the end. Flynn advocated revolutionary communism; Day advocated Christianity, social reforms, and pacifism.

Dorothy freely associated with radicals and communists, but she was not a communist herself. Dorothy was opposed to atheism and any form of violence or violent revolution. She also rejected the hostility inherent in communism based on socio-economic class struggle or class warfare. Her beliefs were completely peaceful and Christian and especially Catholic in nature.

Dorothy Day had personal relationships with men, and she once had an abortion. She later regretted the abortion, however. She later had a common-law marriage with a political activist and scientist, Forster Batterham, and had a child -- although the common-law marriage eventually failed.

Dorothy first became seriously interested in Catholicism upon meeting a Catholic nun named Sister Aloysia. Dorothy had her own child baptized Catholic, and in December of 1927 Dorothy herself was baptized into the Catholic religion.

Dorothy Day continued her work as a journalist writing articles on topics as diverse as gardening and aspects of Catholicism. Stories on gardening paid the bills, while stories on religion were her passion and calling.

In 1932 she met a Frenchman named Peter Maurin, who was a leader of a movement advocating Christian social activism. His main interest was in helping the poor. Needless to say, with the Great Depression now fully engaged, the poor were everywhere. People who may have been middle class or even well-off were now jobless, and in many cases, homeless and hungry.

Peter Maurin in 1934, a French social activist and
De la Salle brother who helped
create the Catholic Worker
newspaper with Dorothy Day
Photo from Marquette University archive
and Wikimedia Commons

In May of 1933, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin published the first issue of a newspaper called Catholic Worker. This was the start of Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker movement. This would become the centerpiece of her life's work. She also ran a social services center called Catholic Worker House in New York City.

Today there is still a Catholic Worker publication and house in New York City and in many other cities, both in the USA and overseas. See this link. There is a Catholic Worker program in New Orleans, Louisiana, for example. See this link. (You can read more about the Catholic Worker House in New Orleans, also called the St. Thomas House of Hospitality, at this link to a story in the Clarion Herald, the local Catholic journal.)

The Catholic Worker Houses or centers provide food, housing, and emotional and spiritual care to all people in need.

The Catholic Worker newspaper had a strong influence, and some of the writers for it included the philosopher monk Thomas Merton and the Jesuit priest activist Daniel Berrigan, SJ.

Dorothy Day had a profound influence on social activism based on the Catholic faith with the aims of helping the poor and advocating pacifism. (Dorothy discussed much of her philosophy in her autobiographical book called "The Long Loneliness.")

Some of Day's positions in the Catholic Worker were controversial. She opposed the fascist Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War of 1936 -1939, although Franco won the support of the Catholic Church. Notably, she advocated pacifism during World War 2 even after the Japanese bombed the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and Adolf Hitler overran much of Europe. She felt injustice and aggression should be opposed through non-violent means.

Such extreme positions lost her much support, but she held to her beliefs. Years later she made favorable reference's to Fidel Castro's communist regime in Cuba, seeing him as an advocate for social reforms. And she opposed the US involvement in the war in Vietnam.

Dorothy Day was consistent, however, in supporting social justice. She defended Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who was denounced by the Soviets as a traitor, for his writings against the abuses of Joseph Stalin and communism in the USSR.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974, the
anti-communist writer and Nobel Prize recipient,
whom Dorothy Day defended against Soviet critics
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

She also met with social justice leaders around the world such as Mother Teresa of India and Cesar Chavez, the labor rights activist in the USA.

As an example of how influential Dorothy became, in 1972 the Jesuit magazine named America labeled her the "best in the aspiration and action in the American Catholic Community" since the 1930s.

Today there is an effort to have Dorothy Day canonized as a saint.
See this link.

Like other Irish American activists such as Mother Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Dorothy Day, though controversial and often taking positions contrary to the prevailing public mood or the powers-that-be, took a stand for justice, for peace, and for the rights of the poor.

Dorothy Day died of a heart attack in November, 1980. She was buried in the Cemetery of the Resurrection on Staten Island, New York. Cardinal Terence Cooke attended her funeral procession at the Church of the Nativity in the East Village, NY. Cardinal Cooke later held a mass for Dorothy Day at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New  York.

For the sake of historical research, the papers of Dorothy Day are stored at Marquette University, a Jesuit educational institution.

Sources and Further Reading: Short video on Dorothy Day by Fr. James Martin, SJ; Wikipedia's article on Dorothy Day; Catholic Worker online; New Orleans Catholic Worker; essay by Jim Forest on the Catholic Worker Movement . See more about Catholic Worker communities here. Read about the Catholic Worker House in New Orleans here. Please note that The Catholic Worker House in New Orleans, aka St. Thomas House of Hospitality, has a relationship with Hope House of New Orleans which was co-founded by Sr. Lory Schaff, CSJ. Sr. Lory was the director of the St. Vincent de Paul-Adult Learning Center in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Read more about St. Vincent de Paul -- Adult Learning Center here.