Seeking Authenticity: Women and Learning in the Catholic Worker Movement

Open Access
Parrish, Marilyn McKinley
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 15, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Edward W Taylor, Committee Chair
  • Fred Michael Schied, Committee Member
  • Kenneth Brian Cunningham, Committee Member
  • Charles David Kupfer, Committee Member
  • learning
  • women
  • history
  • adult education
  • social movements
  • spirituality
  • social justice
Women encountered a rich environment of learning as they carried out works of mercy and protest in the Catholic Worker movement during the 1930s and 1940s. Because historical treatments of the movement have focused on the lives and work of co-founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, attending to women’s experiences in the movement creates the opportunity to discover how the movement served as a site for learning, as well as to investigate issues of gender and spirituality. Oral history interviews were conducted with twelve women, ten of whom were involved in the Catholic Worker during the 1930s and 1940s. Two of the women were interviewed about their mother’s experiences in the movement. Findings demonstrate that learning within the Catholic Worker was a dynamic experience. Women were involved in close study of the gospels and papal encyclicals focused on social justice, as well as the works of Catholic writers who espoused personalism, distributism, and pacifism. The Catholic Worker was a place where ideas and learning came together with hard physical work in caring for the needs of those hurt by capitalism. This resulted in the creation of a framework for life or a new way of seeing the world. Narrators were grounded in the context of the Catholic Church, were seeking adventure and authenticity, practiced compassionate and critical-systemic faith, developed significant relationships, and despite varying experiences of gender, trusted personal conscience as a guide as they learned to resist American cultural values of materialism, violence, and oppression.