The history of Father’s Day

Samantha PillingHistory

Fathers Day

Father’s Day is an annual celebration that is celebrated in over one hundred countries. This year in the UK, we’ll be celebrating it on Sunday 16th of June. However it wasn’t always a celebrated day. Initially celebrating fatherhood was something only the Copic and Catholic Churches of southern europe celebrated, as part of their St. Joseph’s Day celebrations, but now it’s annually recognised and celebrated.

The feast of St. Joseph

The feast of St. Joseph was thought to have been brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese Catholics. Originally celebrated on the 19th of March, this date goes back as far as the middle ages and many of today’s Latin American community keep with this tradition. But Father’s Day as we know it (the third Sunday in June), has a much shorter history.

First Father’s Day celebration

The very first celebration of Father’s Day was a small and emotional day, held by the local church on the 5th of July 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia. The idea to honour local fathers was raised by Grace Golden Clayton. She was already mourning the loss of her father when, in December 1907 a mining disaster hit the nearby town of Monongah. 361 men died – 250 of them were father’s. Clayton thought the thousand or so children of those fathers, may want a way to honour them.

The local church didn’t promote the event, nor did it repeat it for many years. And with the wider 1908 celebrations for Independence Day drawing in a 12,000 strong crowd, the little local event being held at Fairmount went by, unnoticed by the outside world.

The birth of Father’s Day as we know it

It fell to another woman and daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, to create Father’s Day as we know it today. Her father was a civil war veteran and single parent to six children and, after hearing a sermon about Anna Jarvis’ Mother’s Day – she felt there should also be a service to honour fathers. She wanted it to be held on her father’s birthday – June 6th – but the local pastors who had agreed to hold the service, needed more time to prepare their sermons. June 19, 1910 was the date chosen, and the first Father’s Day church service was held at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington and throughout the city.

The long road to acceptance

Father’s Day then continued being celebrated for several years. In 1913 a bill to recognise it as a national holiday was introduced to Congress. President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane in 1916 to speak at a Father’s Day celebration, but congress still resisted. Dodd went to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1920 and stopped promoting the day. In 1924 US President Calvin Coolidge recommended it be observed – but Congress still resisted.

In the 1930’s, Dodd returned to Spokane and started raising awareness for the celebration again on a national level.

This time it was more successful. The New York Men’s Wear Retailers founded the Father’s Day Council in 1938 to help promote the day and raise awareness of it. Initially, American’s resisted, seeing it as another attempt to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day. Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith even wrote to Congress in 1957, accusing them of ignoring fathers!

Finally, in 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honouring fathers and designating the third Sunday in June as ‘Father’s Day’. Six years later, it was made a permanent national holiday by President Nixon – and began its journey around the world.

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