Many of you may be surprised to learn about the history of Father’s Day and how recently it was established in the United States.
The first observance of a "Father's Day" was held on July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, now known as Central United Methodist Church. Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father, following the Monongah Mining disaster that occurred on December 1907. 361 men lost their lives, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand fatherless children. Clayton suggested that her pastor Robert Thomas Webb honor all those fathers which they did, but Father’s Day was not celebrated anywhere outside of Fairmont after that first celebration.
Sonora Smart Dodd and Her Father, William Jackson Smart
Later, on June 19, 1910, a Father's Day celebration was held at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington by Sonora Smart Dodd. Her father, a Civil War veteran, William Jackson Smart, raised his six children by himself.
After hearing a sermon about Jarvis' Mother's Day in 1909 at Central Methodist Episcopal Church, Ms. Dodd told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday to honor them. I am certain, Ms. Dodd was inspired to honor her father who was both mother and father to her and her siblings.
Although she initially suggested June 5, her father's birthday, the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday in June. Several local clergymen accepted the idea, and on June 19, 1910, the first Father's Day was celebrated, sermons honoring fathers were presented throughout the city.
In the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was busy studying at the Art Institute of Chicago. Father’s Day faded into obscurity, even in Spokane. However, in the 1930s, Dodd returned to Spokane and began to promote the celebration once again and raised awareness at a national level. She requested the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional present for fathers. Naturally, businesses will rally when there is money to be had. By 1938, she had the help of the Father's Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers to consolidate and organize the holiday's commercial promotion. Americans resisted the holiday for its first few decades, viewing it as nothing more than an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother's Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. However, the merchants remained resilient and even incorporated these attacks into their advertisements. Sort of reminds me of the things which are said about Valentine’s Day and, these days, about the commercialism of Christmas. Even into the mid-1980s, the Father's Day Council wrote, "Father's Day has become a Second Christmas for all the men's gift-oriented industries."
President Woodrow Wilson
So, now we get to the politics and money part. A bill to establish national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak at a Father's Day celebration. He wanted to make it an officially recognized federal holiday, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized. US President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be observed throughout the entire nation, but he stopped short at issuing a national proclamation. Two earlier attempts to formally recognize the holiday had been defeated by Congress. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a Father's Day proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, “thus singling out just one of our two parents". Now the part that amazed me:
President Lyndon Johnson
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.
President Richard Nixon
Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.
Father's Day is celebrated worldwide to recognize the contribution that fathers and father figures make to the lives of their children. This day celebrates fatherhood and male parenting. Although it is celebrated on a variety of dates worldwide, many countries observe this day on the third Sunday in June.
Pop and his dog, Guess
It seems to me my family celebrated Father’s Day all my life. I had no idea it was not really official until 1972. I’m glad my family celebrated Father’s Day even before the official date because Pop was the kind of father who raised his daughters to be self-reliant, strong, and well mannered. He was my touchstone when I needed help figuring out the world and the people in it. I miss his wise council and his confident strength. Happy Father’s Day, Pop.
I honor all of you who are fathers or who have fathers either in this world or in Heaven, HAPPY FATHER'S DAY.
Author, Sarah J. McNeal
Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media: