Today in History- 1st Father’s Day Celebrated in the U.S. (kind of).

It’s Father’s Day. A time to celebrate the men who helped raise us. A time to honor the men who have helped shape each and every one of us into the person we are now. But how did this holiday become a national celebration? The story might surprise you, along with the controversy surrounding it.

It actually started in 1908.

The first Father’s Day service was held at a church in Fairmont, West Virginia on July 5th, 1908. This was in response to the tragic outcome of an infamous mining disaster that killed hundreds of men. Grace Golden Clayton, daughter of a well-respected minister, proposed that a memorial be formed to commemorate all fathers, including those who had passed away. Surprisingly enough, this observance did not become a regular occurrence and there was hardly any promotion for it; so, nobody outside the local area knew about it. On the other hand, unbeknownst to everyone else in the nation, another woman was inspired to recognize her father and others too…

Inspired by Mother’s Day.

In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd (Spokane, Washington), was inspired by the Mother’s Day sermon. Her father, William Jackson Smart was a Civil War veteran, farmer, and a single parent to her and her five brothers. Her mother had died giving birth in 1898 and her father stepped up and played the role of both parents.

Originally, Sonora proposed June 5th, but the local ministers asked for it to be celebrated on the 3rd Sunday in June so they would have more time to prepare.

Becoming a National Holiday

The celebration was highly publicized, and word of the event made it to Washington D.C. The first bill was introduced in 1913 but unfortunately, even with President Wilson’s support, it did not pass. 8 years later, President Coolidge signed a resolution in support of Father’s Day, “to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”

In 1966, President Johnson signed an executive order celebrating Father’s Day on the 3rd Sunday of June. And finally, in 1972, under President Nixon, Congress passed the act making Father’s Day a national holiday.

Only 59 years! Not bad for the government.

The decision was based on the economy.

Surprise, surprise- the push to make it a national holiday was not based on appreciation for fathers- but rather on the economic climate. There were two key events that ensured Father’s Day was not left on the backburner:

The Great Depression: It was a hard time for the U.S., not a penny to spare and the stores needed a reason to bring people in. Father’s Day was seen as a viable reason to motivate families to spend money on dad, encouraging families to buy him new clothing or items that he didn’t need but wouldn’t buy for himself. Typical gifts included traditional neckties and socks.

World War II: With so many men away fighting in the trenches, Father’s Day was seen as an opportunity to show support for men and encouraged people to donate to the war to ‘support’ their loved ones.

It was not a popular idea with the masses.

In the 20′ and 30′ there was a movement to get rid of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and combine them into a collective Patent’s Day. Headed by Robert Spere, a children’s radio entertainer, he saw the two different celebrations as a “division of respect and affection” for parents. “We should all have love for dad and mother every day, but Parents’ Day on the second Sunday in May is a reminder that both parents should be loved and respected together,” Spere told The New York Times in 1931.

The slogan for the new holiday was actually pretty catchy: “A kiss for mother, a hug for dad.”

Father’s Day is big business – but it pales against Mother’s Day.

In 2022, approximately 20 billion dollars were spent on Father’s Day gifts, compared to 31.7 billion spent on Mother’s Day. But… interestingly, it is the 4th most popular day for greeting cards, with over 72 million bought every year. 15% of those being not for dads but husbands.

Traditionally, roses are the traditional gift- wearing a red rose means you have a living father and a white one means your father has passed on.

It’s a worldwide celebration.

Historians agree that a tradition to celebrate and honor fathers began thousands of years ago. A study shows that 4,000 years ago in Babylon, a son carved a special message to his father on a card made of clay. He wished his dad a long and healthy life. It is believed that several countries adopted this custom of celebrating Father’s Day

  • March 14– Iran
  • March 19– Bolivia, Honduras, Italy, Lichtenstein, Portugal, Spain
  • May 8– South Korea
  • First Sunday in June– Lithuania
  • Second Sunday in June Austria, Ecuador, Belgium
  • Third Sunday in June– Antigua, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Saint Vincent, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Trinidad, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Zimbabwe
  • June 17– El Salvador, Guatemala
  • June 23– Nicaragua, Poland, Uganda
  • Second Sunday in July– Uruguay
  • Last Sunday in July– Dominican Republic
  • Second Sunday in August– Brazil
  • August 8– Taiwan, China
  • August 24– Argentina
  • First Sunday in September Australia, New Zealand
  • New Moon of September– Nepal
  • First Sunday in October– Luxembourg
  • Second Sunday in November Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden
  • December 5– Thailand

There you have it- a brief look into the history of Father’s Day. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get ready to go take my father out to lunch and give him the card that I got him.

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