The History of Father's Day
Father’s Day is celebrated annually in countries all over the world, a day where we show our dads, grandads and other father figures how much they are loved and appreciated with Father's Day gifts, cards and celebratory meals. But where did it all begin?
Read on to find out about the origins of Father’s Day, who invented it and why it is celebrated in the month of June.
|What is the history behind Father’s Day?|
|When did Father's Day start and why?|
|Who invented Father's Day and where?|
|Why is Father’s Day in June?|
|Father's Day timeline|
What is the history behind Father’s Day?
While Father’s Day as we know it first began in the early 1900s, celebrations of fatherhood date back to the Middle Ages, with the earliest known date being in 1508. At this point in history Father’s Day was part of the European Catholic calendar and was celebrated on 19th March as part of St. Joseph’s Day celebrations. European Catholics would traditionally hold a feast to honour fatherhood. In the Bible, Saint Joseph was the husband of the Virgin Mary and legal father of Jesus Christ.
In some Catholic European countries, including Spain, Italy and Portugal, Father’s Day is still celebrated on 19th March. Saint Joseph is thought to be a good example of what a father figure should be, so it is fitting that Father’s Day is still observed on this date some 500 years after it was first recorded.
When did Father’s Day start and why?
The origins of modern Father’s Day actually began in tragedy. In December 1907 in West Virginia, USA, 361 men were killed in the Monongah Mining Disaster, the worst mining accident in US history. 250 of the men who died were fathers, leaving around 1,000 children in the local community fatherless.
A local woman named Grace Golden Clayton, who had lost her own father when she was 25, suggested that the community hold a memorial service to honour the men who were killed and to celebrate fatherhood. The service was held in Fairmont on 5th July 1908, led by pastor Robert Thomas Webb. The date was chosen as it was the Sunday closest to Clayton’s own father’s birthday.
While it was not intended to be an annual event and was not the direct origin of Father’s Day, Grace Golden Clayton’s memorial service in July 1908 is often acknowledged as the first modern celebration of fatherhood.
Who invented Father’s Day and where?
Sonora Smart Dodd (1882 – 1978) of Spokane, Washington, is widely credited as the founder and inventor of modern Father’s Day.
Inspired by the recently introduced Mother’s Day (founded in 1908) and after hearing of Grace Golden Clayton’s Monongah memorial service in West Virginia, Dodd began to campaign for an annual celebration of fatherhood. Her mother had died in childbirth and so she and her five brothers were raised single handedly by her own father, an American Civil War veteran named William Smart Jackson. She was a devoted daughter and was very close with her father, and believed that he and other men like him should be given credit for their role as fathers.
Dodd began campaigning for local clergy, religious groups and public officials to support her idea of a Father’s Day service and soon managed to get them on board. The first Father’s Day service was held at the YMCA in Spokane on 19th June 1910. Dodd spent the day delivering gifts to fathers in the city who were too ill to leave their homes, and roses were distributed among churchgoers to wear at the service, red for living fathers and white for those who had passed away.
Why is Father’s Day in June?
So, why is Father’s Day held in June? Grace Golden Clayton’s original church service was held on July 5th, the Sunday closest to her own father’s birthday that year, however it was thought this date was too close to American Independence Day on 4th July for it to become the annual Father’s Day weekend. In keeping with Clayton’s dedication to her own father, Sonora Smart Dodd originally wanted to hold her Father’s Day celebration on 5th June, her father’s birthday, however given the short time the local churches had to plan and prepare for the service it was agreed to be pushed back a few weeks and 19th June was chosen instead.
Although it was not officially recognised by US Congress until the 1960s (as we will explore later), since that day in 1910 Father’s Day has always been held on the third Sunday in June.
A Brief History of Father’s Day in the USA
Although now celebrated all over the world, much of the history of modern Father’s Day took place in the USA. It was here that the first Father’s Day services were celebrated in the early 1900s and from then on, the popularity of Father’s Day spread internationally. However, despite its popularity it took over 60 years before Father’s Day was officially recognised as a national US holiday.
Here is a brief timeline of Father’s Day in the USA, from inception to official recognition.
Mother’s Day was founded in the USA by Anna Jarvis from West Virginia. This later became inspiration for Father’s Day.
In the same year as Mother’s Day was founded, the first recorded service celebrating fatherhood took place, also in West Virginia, to remember the 361 men killed in the Monongah Mining Disaster.
Sonora Smart Dodd, the founder of modern Father’s Day, held the first Father’s Day celebration at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington.
From 1910, Dodd began campaigning for Father’s Day to become a recognised event and it started to be celebrated around the country.
US President Woodrow Wilson heard news of the growing popularity of Father’s Day and attended a Father’s Day service in Spokane. He confirmed that he was working to make it a national holiday but his efforts were initially resisted by Congress due to concerns around commercialisation.
Following on from Wilson’s campaigning, President Calvin Coolidge also supported the Father’s Day proposal and recommended that it become an official holiday but he was unable to issue a national proclamation.
1940s - 1950s
By this point Father’s Day was being widely celebrated across the USA but it did not yet have the official recognition that Mother’s Day had gained in 1914.
Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine Senator, pleaded with Congress to formally recognise Father’s Day. She said that having Mother’s Day as a national holiday but not Father’s Day was “the worst possible oversight against the gallant fathers of our land”. She also added that the country should either “honour both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honouring either one”.
The Father’s Day question was again raised in Congress, this time by politician Walt Horan.
The first presidential proclamation honouring fathers was issued by Lyndon B. Johnson and Father’s Day was given the official date of the third Sunday in June.
Finally in 1972, President Richard Nixon declared Father’s Day an official national holiday in the USA.