In 1972 Richard Nixon signed a public proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday. However, did you know that its origins go back almost 70 years prior?
On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event in honor of fathers. A sermon was preached that Sunday in the memory of the 362 men who had lost their lives in the explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah the previous December. At the time, it was only considered a one-time celebration and not an annual holiday.
The following year, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, living in Spokane, Washington, fought to establish an official day in recognition of Fathers, the equivalent of Mother’s Day. Having campaigned at churches, the YMCA, retail shops and government offices to muster support for the idea, Mrs Dodd was successful and Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson honored Father’s day by sending telegraph signals to unfurl a flag in Spokane simply by pressing a button in Washington, D.C. Then, in 1924, then President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe Father’s Day. However, it should be noted, that many men continued to ridicule and show outward disdain the day. As one historian writes, they “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving” and would often deride the idea of such holidays as Mother’s or Father’s Day as merely a commercial gimmick to sell more products. Products often paid for by the fathers themselves.
Did you know: During the 1920s and 30s, a movement began to eliminate both Mother’s and Father’s Day in favor of a single holiday to be colloquially called Parents’ Day. Pro “Parents’ Day” groups would rally annually in rallied in New York’s Central Park stating, “Both parents should be loved and respected together.” However, it was the Great Depression that sidelined these attempts to combine and de-commercialize both Mother’s and Father’s Day. Retailers and advertisers that were struggling due to the crippling effects of the depression, redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men by promoting goods and services. This is why we now shower Fathers in June with the likes of: cologne, ties, socks, hats, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and most importantly, greeting cards. Thanks, in part, to the beginning of our involvement in World War II, advertisers began to promote 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, though not yet a federal holiday, was now a national institution.