People have been celebrating dads for a long time now. The idea of commemorating one’s father goes back to ancient times, and is even in the Old Testament (“Honor your father…as the Lord your God has commanded you”). While many cultures around the world have long had events or observances centered around fatherhood, the concept of Father’s Day as most of us know it today is still relatively new.
Here is a short history of Father’s Day.
History of Father’s Day
On July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, a local Methodist church held a special service to celebrate fathers after a deadly mine explosion had killed hundreds of men the year prior. While this was one of the nation’s first events directly aimed at honoring fathers, it was only a one-time event, and not an annual holiday.
In 1909, a woman from Spokane, Washington, named Sonora Smart Dodd came up with the idea for a day to honor fathers after listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Dodd’s father was a quiet Civil War veteran. His wife had died giving birth to their sixth child. Mother’s Day had already begun to gain traction as a national holiday, and Dodd felt that fathers were equally deserving of their own special day of celebration.
Dodd spent the following year campaigning for Father’s Day. She visited various local establishments and talked to many government officials with the hopes of gaining support for her idea. Ultimately, she was successful. The first Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane on June 19, 1910.
Gradually, Father’s Day celebrations began to pop up elsewhere around the country. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, the man who had made Mother’s Day an official holiday, came to Spokane to speak at Father’s Day services.
Father’s Day Becomes Official
In the beginning, Father’s Day was actually not all that popular. Ironically, it was men in particular that opposed the idea. It seems that some men felt the sentimental nature of the holiday did not fit with “manliness” or “masculinity”. Many Americans, especially in congress, also viewed the holiday a bit cynically. To some, it was just another attempt to get people to buy stuff they didn’t really need. Some people even wanted to get rid Father’s Day and Mother’s Day altogether. Parents’ Day was proposed as a possible alternative.
Congress spent many decades fighting back against attempts to make Father’s Day an official holiday. However, during the Great Depression, retailers and advertisers began to see commercial opportunities. With many struggling businesses, increased efforts were made to promote the holiday in order to try and boost sales.
By World War II, it was businesses again that tried to increase awareness about the holiday, and consequently many began to sell Father’s Day as a way to honor American troops and support the war effort. It was re-framed into a more masculine holiday. By the end of the war, Father’s Day had spread across the nation.
Finally, in 1956, Congress officially recognized Father’s Day with the passage of a joint resolution. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson made an executive order which secured Father’s Day as the the third Sunday in June. Father’s was made a national holiday in 1972 by President Richard Nixon.
Father’s Day Today
Today, Father’s Day is celebrated in various countries around the world. Many countries honor fatherhood on March 19, a traditional Catholic holiday called St. Joseph’s Day. Others have followed the US and celebrate it on the third Sunday in June.
There is no denying that Father’s Day remains a very commercial holiday. Americans spend billions of dollars on Father’s Day each year. While we’re sure dad will enjoy that tie or box of golf balls, make sure to remember why Sonora Smart Dodd came up with the idea for the holiday in the first place. If you have a great dad or father-figure in your life, let them know just how much you admire and care about them.
Remember, any guy can have it kid, but it takes a real special person to be a father.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.