The community laundress for twenty-five years, Dorothy loved nature and poetry

Dorothy Mommsen

Dorothy Mommsen 1922–2007

A nature-loving young woman from Miami, Dorothy studied sociology, worked for a campus peace committee, did war-relief work, and taught school in rural Virginia. After World War II, she married a conscientious objector, Arnold, and the two helped build up Macedonia, a humanist cooperative farm in Georgia. They eventually had five children. In 1957 they and many of their fellow communitarians joined the Bruderhof. For the next quarter-century, Dorothy worked in the community’s laundry, then primitively equipped and located in a basement. 

Those were the years when everything had to be hung on lines and rushed indoors when it rained. Washing and folding laundry for up to three hundred people was hard work, so when the piles of sheets and jeans got overwhelming, Dorothy liked to go home, fry a batch of doughnuts, and call an impromptu break in the sunshine and fresh air. Only when she was in her late sixties did she suggest to the community that she might enjoy working elsewhere, and soon became the school librarian.

The floor of the communal dining hall in Fox Hill gets a scrub

Dorothy loved birds, trees, and poetry, which she collected in scrapbooks where famous poets – A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, Gerard Manley Hopkins – jostled with writers like Dom Hélder Câmara and George Borrow. She liked to quote the latter: “There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother.” Handwritten copies of poems were given as birthday presents to her twenty-four grandchildren and to the many friends with whom she corresponded, including dozens of prison inmates. As she lay dying, a former inmate who had exchanged letters with her for close to twenty years of incarceration flew halfway across the country to say goodbye: “She’s my mother. I owe it to her.”

A usually gentle woman who could be tart on occasion, Dorothy’s attitude to work might best be summed up by this insight from a favorite author, George MacDonald: 

“I begin to suspect . . . that the common transactions of life are the most sacred channels for the spread of the heavenly leaven.”

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