Biographical Note

The best-known member of the Catholic Worker movement during his lifetime, after Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Ammon Hennacy (1893-1970) was a Christian anarchist, pacifist, war tax resister, and self-proclaimed “one-man revolution.” Hennacy converted to radical Christianity after reading the Bible while serving two years in prison for draft resistance during World War I.  Following his release, he contracted a common-law marriage with Selma Melms, the daughter of a Socialist Party official and politician in Milwaukee. After a walking and hitchhiking tour of all 48 states, the couple homesteaded near Waukesha, Wisconsin, where Hennacy worked in a dairy until fired in 1931 for organizing a strike. He then found employment as a social worker in Milwaukee, becoming associated with the Catholic Worker’s local affiliate, Holy Family House, and meeting Dorothy Day.

With the coming of World War II, Hennacy again refused to register for the draft . He moved to Denver and then Phoenix, without his wife and two daughters, who had left him. He supported himself by “stoop labor” to avoid paying income tax, writing frequently about his activities in articles for The Catholic Worker and in letters to Dorothy Day. Hennacy’s growing attraction to Day led him to convert to the Catholic Church in 1952 and join the New York Catholic Worker community the next year. He energized the CW’s involvement in the peace movement by helping to initiate the yearly protests of the compulsory air raid drills, while continuing to fast and picket against nuclear weapons. He was arrested for trespassing at Mead Air Force Base during the Omaha Action protests in the summer of 1959, for which he was sentenced to six months in prison.

Ammon  Hennacy left New York in 1961 to found and direct the Joe Hill House of Hospitality for homeless men in Salt Lake City. He published his autobiography, The Book of Ammon (a revised and expanded version of the earlier Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist) in 1964. The following year he left the Catholic Church to marry Joan Thomas. (Hennacy identified as a “non-church Christian” for the rest of his life.) When Joe Hill House closed in 1968, Hennacy focused on writing and  his picketing and fasting against the execution of prisoners in Utah. While engaged in one of these protests, in January 1970, he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Scope and Content

This series is composed largely of correspondence and writings Hennacy left with a friend before joining the New York Catholic Worker community in 1953; these items were later obtained by his widow, who donated them to Marquette University. Other collections of his papers are held by the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan (including letters from Dorothy Day) and  the University of Utah. Of note as well are his many letters to Dorothy Day, in Series D-1 of the Dorothy Day Papers


Series Box Folder Folder Title
W-16 - - Correspondence
W-16 1 -
1915-August 1941
W-16 2       September 1941-1964
W-16 3 1     1965-1971, undated
W-16 7 1     Transcribed letters (most to mother; one from Thomas Merton), 1919-1969
W-16 3 2 Joe Hill House Songbook, 1967
W-16 3 3 Varia, 1919-1997, undated
W-16 - - Writings by AH
W-16 3 4-5     Articles, Book Reviews, and Essays, 1916-1966, undated     
W-16 3 6     Autobiographical Writings, 1916, 1923-1924, undated
W-16 3 -     Book Manuscripts
W-16 3 7         "Revolutionary Pacifism," ca. 1921
W-16 3 8         "God's Coward,"  on life in prison, 1939-1940
W-16 3 8         "High Roads and Hot Roads," on cross-country hike, ca. 1940
Series Box Folder Folder Title
W-16 4 1         "Catholic Anarchism" (chapter), ca. 1958
W-16 4 2         "Our Hike," undated      
W-16 4 3     Leaflets, 1917-1970
W-16 4 4     Miscellaneous Writings, 1916-ca. 1966, undated
W-16 4 5     Play Manuscript, "God's Coward," ca. 1935 
W-16 4 6     Poems, 1915-1916, 1919, undated
W-16 - - Writings on  AH 
W-16 4 7     Magazine and Newspaper Articles, 1917-2001
W-16 5-6 -     Unpublished Biography by Joan Thomas, 2000