By the time I arrived at the Catholic Worker in New York in 1975, a poster featuring Bob Fitch’s photo of Dorothy Day was already ubiquitous. It could be found, and can still be found today, tacked on the walls of soup kitchens, hospitality houses and farming communes, or mounted and framed in rectories and academics’ studies.
Dorothy, already in her 70s, is sitting serenely, almost regally, on a campstool, framed by guns and clubs hanging on the belts of two cops ready to take her into custody. The text under the photo, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system,” attributed to Dorothy Day, is widely quoted by scholars, journalists and Catholic Workers, even more since her death in 1980. It is rare to find a reference to Dorothy and the movement she cofounded that does not include it, and some offer it as a distillation of her prodigious body of writing into a few pithy words.
This is Dorothy Day’s most famous quote. The problem is that she probably never said it.