Happy 75th birthday, Catholic Worker movement!

posted by Mike on May 1st, 2008

On May 1, 1933, the first issue of The Catholic Worker went on sale in Manhattan’s Union Square for a penny a copy.

Dorothy Day, from that issue:

It’s time there was a Catholic paper printed for the unemployed.

The fundamental aim of most radical sheets is the conversion of its readers to radicalism and atheism.

Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?

Is it not possible to protest, to expose, to complain, to point out abuses and demand reforms without desiring the overthrow of religion?

In an attempt to popularize and make known the encyclicals of the Popes in regard to social justice and the program put forth by the Church for the “reconstruction of the social order,” this news sheet, The Catholic Worker, is started.


This first number of The Catholic Worker was planned, written and edited in the kitchen of a tenement on Fifteenth Street, on subway platforms, on the “L,” the ferry. There is no editorial office, no overhead in the way of telephone or electricity, no salaries paid.

The money for the printing of the first issue was raised by begging small contributions from friends. A colored priest in Newark sent us ten dollars and the prayers of his congregation. A colored sister in New Jersey, garbed also in holy poverty, sent us a dollar. Another kindly and generous friend sent twenty-five. The rest of it the editors squeezed out of their own earnings, and at that they were using money necessary to pay milk bills, gas bills, electric light bills.

Mel Piehl, Breaking Bread:

Fortunately for [Peter] Maurin, he finally came up with the one suggestion calculated to win a hearing from his new acquaintance: Day should start a Catholic newspaper for the unemployed.


. . . the collaboration got off to a bad start. When he read the proofs of the first issue of The Catholic Worker, with its stories on strikes, race relations, labor schools, and housing, Maurin declared that “everybody’s paper is nobody’s paper” and immediately left the city. Not only did he want the paper to be called the Catholic Radical or the Catholic Agronomist rather than the proletarian-sounding Catholic Worker, but he apparently expected it to contain nothing but his own little versed “essays.”


Dorothy Day began a newspaper–the Catholic Worker–to advertise social change, but she quickly found herself at the head of a social movement–the Catholic Worker–that tried to show the way to the ideals the paper defended.


The enormous success of the Catholic Worker paved the way for the movement. Despite some initial hostility on the streets (two of the four sellers that first May Day gave up and went home), the new paper quickly caught on, gaining even the attention of those who disagreed with it.

Dwight MacDonald, “Revisiting Dorothy Day”:

Volume One, Number One of the Catholic Worker hit Union Square on May Day, 1933, with an ambiguous thud. The Marxian natives couldn’t classify this political chimera: its forequarters were anarchistic but its hinder parts were attached to the Church of Rome, whose American hierarchy then stood slightly to the right of Herbert Hoover. One editor, Dorothy Day, was known as a writer for the socialist Call and the old Masses and a friend of radicals like Hugo Gellert, Maurice Becker, and Mike Gold (to whom she was engaged for a year). But the other editor was a mystery: Fourteenth Street cafeteria savants who could distinguish at the drop of a coffee spoon between Manuilsky and Mayakovsky, Dan and Denikin, Malenkov, Martov, Miliukov, Muralov, and Muranov were stumped by Maurin (Peter). Their conclusion, reasonable enough on the premises, was that the Catholic Worker was either a Trojan horse rigged up by the Vatican to betray the oft-betrayed proletariat or, more charitably, an “adventure” by “confused idealists . . . .”

Nancy Roberts, “Dorothy Day: Editor and Advocacy Journalist”:

From 2,500 copies of its premiere issue, circulation jumped to 20,000 by November 1933, 40,000 by December 1934, and 110,000 by May 1935.

The production process for the first issue of The Catholic Worker showed no particular attitude towards technology, aside from using the cheapest means to reach the widest audience. I think blogging is very much in that Catholic Worker tradition.

The two most prolific CW blogs are the Vancouver CW’s and River Sims’s (Temenos CW, San Francisco). Here at Pie and Coffee we often write about Catholic Worker communities too, most often about Worcester, South Bend, and Orange County.

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One Comment Leave a comment.

  1. On May 1, 2008 at 12:11 Mike said:

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