Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why Dorothy Day Had No Use for Emma Goldman

    You know, I had an abortion. The doctor was fat, dirty and furtive. He left hastily after it was accomplished, leaving me bleeding. The daughter of the landlords assisted me and never said a word of it. He was Emma Goldman's lover; that's why I have never had any use for Emma.
So said Servant of God Dorothy Day, in a private conversation reported on by Fr. James Martin, S.J. — Dorothy Day and Abortion: A New Conversation Surfaces. News of the abortion is not new; she never spoke of it publicly because she didn't live long enough into America's "confessional" culture. Just as Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy could only allude indirectly to abortion in Anna Karenina, in Day's day, it was almost universally considered an abomination, and most certainly never a "right."

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Blogger love the girls said...

She "had no use for Emma Goldman" because her lover :

a) was fat, dirty and furtive

b) left her hastily

If that's a good enough reason to have "no use" for some woman, then what use should we have for a women her murdered her baby?

It looks like pretty screwed up priorities to me.

2:14 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I wouldn't be so quick to condemn a woman whose cause is underway from a third-hand snippet of a conversation that occured decades ago.

About the subject, she said in a television interview, "[W]e do believe that there is not only the genocide of war—the genocide that took place in the extermination of Jews—but, the whole program—I’m speaking now as a Catholic—of birth control and abortion, another form of genocide."

4:32 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

And St. John Vianney was a whacked out Jansenist who said the angels blush at seeing a nude baby.

Heaven is willed, not intellectualized into.

As with all Saints, I take what they say with a grain of salt. Especially when one of them makes a show of the splinter in her neighbor's eye while glossing over the log in her own.

One thing is certain, this interview is not the model of sanctity.

2:21 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

As for her saying abortion is genocide.

So what? Why should we expect less? I rarely give credit to Catholics who speak as Catholics because why should we expect less of them than to be Catholic?

We might as well likewise praise parents who feed and clothes their children.

2:26 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


LTG, I'm surprised at you for leaving out the most important part about Goldman's lover: that he--

c) performed abortions

And even if Goldman had been sleeping with a hot and charming doctor with perfect hygiene and "easy manners" (as Jane Austen would say), there are other reasons one "would not have any use" for her. (If I had to guess, I'd say the greater context is the reason why Day wasn't trying to make a strategic ally out of Goldman. But feel free to tell me the whole story behind Day and Goldman, if you know it.) Or is it just the choice of words you are objecting to, LTG?

For what it's worth, I think the best quote from the article was Dorothy Day's primary reason for not writing about her abortion: "I don't like to push young people into their sins."

4:01 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : "LTG, I'm surprised at you for leaving out the most important part about Goldman's lover: that he--

c) performed abortions"

I left "performed abortions" out because it was explicitly left out by Dorothy Day as reasons she had no use for Emma Goldman.

Of course it immediately comes to mind, and if anything is further damning of Day for not explicitly listing it, especially in comparison to the reasons given.

Secondly, in context what is worse? A mother killing her own child, or being the lover of a man who kills that same child?

The pro-life movement speaks of women as victims, but what they are the most grievous of killers because they kill their own flesh and blood. Which is likewise why we're so horrified when we read of mothers who kill their born children.

9:06 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

As for the whole story behind Day and Goldman:

I haven't a clue, having never heard of Emma Goldman prior to this post on the Western Confucian. I was simply commenting on the face of it uncharitable remark against a women who is more sinned against, than sinning in comparison to her accuser.

9:11 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Emma Goldman was Russian emigre anarchist with whom Dorothy Day crossed paths in the '20s, and is an "icon" of leftists and feminists.

To her credit, she opposed women's suffrage and knew that having wives institutionalize their children so that they might join their husbands in wage-slavery was not "emancipation."

12:06 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


LTG, I don't know how you can say it was explicitly left out, when it's right there in the same quoted passage.

"You know, I had an abortion. The doctor . . . was Emma Goldman's lover."

And yes, I left out the "fat, dirty and furtive" and "left hastily" bits on purpose. Those really seem to me to be incidental: details for the narrative rather than the chain of reasoning. Incidentally, even if Day had not said them at all--or if Father Martin had left them out of his own retelling--you would still be able to make your charge that Day's remark wasn't charitable.

Since I knew a bit about Goldman's work with contraception and alliance with Margaret Sanger before reading this, I took the same remark from Day as a comment on why she hadn't formed a similar alliance with Goldman. There's still a layer of pettiness to it ("I'm NEVER working with a woman who'd sleep with a man like THAT!"), given all the other reasons not to partner with Goldman, but that's about the only bad thing about it.

2:44 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : "I don't know how you can say it was explicitly left out, when it's right there in the same quoted passage.

The reason it's explicit is because the argument focuses on his leaving her bleeding. With fat dirty and furtive giving further evidence of what kind of man he is that would leave a woman bleeding.

That he performed the abortion is brought into the discussion as introductory background for understanding the argument which followed.

The reason she hated him was because he left her bleeding to death. It was his lack of consideration for Dorothy Day that caused her undying enmity. Not his killing her baby. That is how the sentence reads.

A reading which also fits well with women's nature to never let go a grudge relative to the pain inflicted.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


I think that if he had been handsome and neat, had patched her up the best he could, and had left after she was as comfortable as she could have been under those circumstances, she still would have said the same thing about Emma Goldman.

But more to the point: are you saying that on the strength of this quote from Father Martin, Dorothy Day should not be canonised?

7:01 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : ". . . she still would have said the same thing about Emma Goldman."

I'll take your word for it, and reasons are usually found to be a bit more complicated than the stated reasons. But she does nevertheless give it as why she "never had any use for Emma."

As for canonization, the error is primarily transferring her feelings towards the doctor onto Emma Goldman. I don't blame her for her undying enmity for being left to bleed to death.

Of course she could also have turned it around and seen it as better and more charitable care than she in turn gave her own baby who she did leave to bleed to death, and thus in forgiving herself for her crime likewise forgive the doctor for his lesser related crime.

But perhaps that is asking too much, what is fallen nature and what is simply a women's nature is rather difficult to discern. Or at least I typically don't have a clue.

11:06 PM  

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