Posted on Jun 18th, 2021
June 21, 2021
The nation’s first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, in the state of Washington. However, it was not until 1972 that the day honoring fathers became a nationwide holiday in the United States.
Mother’s Day caught on right away in the early 1900’s, thanks in a large part to the association with retailers, who saw great potential for profit in the holiday. In 1909, 45 states observed the day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution that made the second Sunday in May a holiday in honor of “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”
On July 5, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia, a Methodist church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers. The sermon that Sunday focused upon the memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday.
The next year, a Spokane, Washington, woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She wanted to honor and celebrate her Father. Sonora’s Dad, William Smart, a veteran of the Civil War, was left a widower when his wife died while giving birth to their sixth child. He went on to raise the six children by himself on their small farm in Washington. Sonora was the oldest child and only daughter. To show her appreciation for all the hard work and love William gave to her and her siblings, Sonora thought there should be a day to pay homage to him and other Dads like him. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on June 19, 1910.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parents’ Day.
However, the Great Depression derailed this effort to combine and de-commercialize the holidays. Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men, promoting goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards.
When World War II began, advertisers began to argue 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 may not have been a federal holiday, but it was a national institution.
While Father’s Day was celebrated locally in several communities across the country, unofficial support to make the celebration a national holiday began almost immediately. William Jennings Bryant was one of its staunchest proponents. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended that Father’s Day become a national holiday. But no official action was taken.
It took more than 60 years from the birth of the idea to Father’s Day actually being recognized as a federal holiday. Father’s Day was finally declared a national holiday in 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed it into law.