Father’s Day: A Brief History


Did you know that before Father’s Day was officially celebrated on the third Sunday in June, it has been observed since the Middle Ages on March 19th in Catholic Europe? As for the U.S., Father’s Day was not observed until the 20th Century. There are two stories that are often told on how Father’s Day had its beginnings.

1st Story of Father’s Day

After Mother’s Day was successfully promoted by Anna Jarvis, Father’s Day was said to be first observed on July 5, 1908 in the town of Fairmont, West Virginia. Grace Golden Clayton suggested to her paster to honor all fathers on this date. The catalyst for this was the Monongah Mining Disaster on December 6, 1907 that killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers. Beyond this first observance to honor fathers, Father’s Day did not catch on outside of the town of Fairmont.

2nd Story of Father’s Day

Most often the story that is told that helped an official Father’s Day observance to gain traction in the United States is a story about a Civil War veteran named William Jackson Smart and his daughter Sonora Smart Dodd in Spokane, Washington. Dodd, upon hearing a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909 told her pastor that fathers should be honored with a similar holiday. Dodd initially suggested her father’s birthday, June 5th, as the day to honor fathers, but that did not give Dodd’s pastor enough time to prepare a sermon. Because of this the day to honor fathers was deferred to the third Sunday of June. Not only did Dodd’s pastor agree to preach a sermon honoring fathers on June 19, 1910, but so did other clergymen throughout the city of Spokane.

Father’s Day Becomes An Official Holiday

After this particular initial observance of Father’s Day in Spokane, it took some time for the general public to buy into the observance of a day to honor fathers. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that a day be set aside to observe Father’s Day through out the country, but he stopped short of issuing a formal proclamation. In 1966 U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation to honor fathers, designating the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day.  Then in 1972 U.S. President Richard Nixon signed into law Father’s Day as an official U.S. holiday.

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