Since the Middle Ages, Father’s Day has been celebrated by Catholics in Europe on March 19, St. Joseph’s Day. Today it is celebrated in Europe and the Americas in March, April or June. However, the origin of Father’s Day in the United States has no relationship to the Catholic celebration and is totally secular in origin.
The first Father’s Day in the United States was celebrated in Fairmont, West Virginia on July 5, 1908. Grace Golden Clayton dearly missed her father who had died in 1896. In addition, she wished to honor the memories of the 361 men who had died on December 6 of the previous year in the worst mining disaster in history. Occurring in Monongah, West Virginia, just a few miles south of Fairmont, this disaster resulted in the deaths of 250 fathers, leaving a thousand kids fatherless. Clayton suggested to the pastor of her church that he honor those men by dedicating a Sunday sermon to their memory and he did so.
The following year, Sonora Smart Dodd, a woman from Spokane, Washington sat in church listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Dodd’s mother had died in childbirth and her father had singlehandedly raised her and her five siblings. Dodd decided she wanted to establish a day, June 5, her father’s birthday, to honor her Dad and others like him. She went to churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea. As a result of her efforts, on June 19, 1910, a Father’s Day celebration was held at the YMCA in Spokane, Although she had originally suggested that the event be celebrated on June 5, the pastors did not have sufficient time to prepare their sermons, so the event was deferred to the third Sunday in June. Several local clergymen accepted the idea and sermons honoring fathers were presented throughout the city.
Young women handed out red roses to their fathers at the church service and large baskets of red roses were passed around with those in attendance asked to pin a rose on their clothing- red for the living fathers and white in memory of those no longer alive. Dodd then traveled through the city on a horse drawn carriage bringing roses and gifts to home -bound fathers. This Father’s Day celebration became an annual event in Spokane. Other towns also adopted the Holiday.
A bill to make Father’s Day a national holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913, but it was not passed. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson traveled to Spokane to speak at a Father’s Day celebration. While he wished to make it an officially recognized holiday, Congress resisted, fearing it would become commercialized. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended that the entire country observe the holiday in order to foster closer relationships between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers their obligations to their children. But he stopped short of issuing an official proclamation.
Many men were not in favor of the holiday. They did not like the attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gifts and they resented the commercial use of the day to sell more products, which were often paid for by the father himself.
During the 1920s and 30s, there was even a movement to scrap both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a single holiday, Parents Day. Every year the Pro Parents’ Day groups would rally in New York City’s Central Park as a public reminder that both parents should be honored together.
However, the Great Depression derailed this effort, as struggling retailers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day another Christmas buying spree for men.
Dodd stopped promoting the celebration for a number of years because she was busy with her studies in Chicago. In the 1930s, Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration of Father’s Day again. She was helped in this endeavor by trade groups, who manufactured items of interest to men such as ties and tobacco pipes. By 1938, a trade organization, the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day, took up the cause. However, Americans still resisted the holiday, as they viewed it as nothing more than an attempt by merchants to cash in on the success of Mother’s Day.
During World War II, advertisers argued that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort. By the end of the war, Father’s Day had already become a national institution.
In 1957, Maine Senator, Margaret Chase Smith wrote a Father’s Day proposal, accusing Congress of ignoring fathers. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers and designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. However, it was not until six years later, in 1972, that President Richard Nixon made it into a permanent national holiday.
Although Dodd used the “Fathers’ Day” spelling when she petitioned for the Holiday, the spelling “Father’s Day’ was used in the 1913 attempt to have Congress establish an official day and that is the spelling used today.
This year Father’s Day is on June 17. Here are a few of JewTee’s favorite gifts for Dad.
To see JewTee’s entire collection of Father’s Day gifts, click here.