Father's Day 2013: The History Behind the Holiday For Dads

Isn’t Father’s Day just the obligatory counterpoint to Mother’s Day? It is, but nobody cares. It is still enjoyed in 43 countries — in one iteration or another — and has been so since the first one in the early 1900s.

The origin of Father’s Day, like Father’s Day itself, is a subject of some small conflict. In essence, much like the simple decision of whether to get one’s father the ESPN 30 for 30 box set, or a gift certificate to Brooks Brothers. No matter what, nobody will really get up arms, lest our Dads have to break us up and then force to shake hands and apologize. However, with this ever-ancillary holiday has origins running deep, just like any other celebratory day.

According to sources partial to the pacific northwest Father’s Day was first celebrated in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd originally thought of the idea while listening to a Mother's Day sermon the previous year. The Washington native and her five siblings were raised single handedly by their father, William Jackson Smart, after their mother died during childbirth in 1898. Her petition advocating a national father's day was supported by the local ministerial association and the Young Men's Christian Association.

However, on a hot summer day in Fairmont, West Virginia in 1908, there was a memorial holiday called “Fathers’ Day.”

Around the time of her late father’s birthday, 41-year-old Grace Golden Clayton organized the event in the town square for her loss, and some 250 other fathers, who tragically passed away in the Monongah coal mining disaster in December 1907. However, West Virginians do not hold claim to the holiday, because Clayton and the rest of the town did not intend to publicize it beyond those that mourned.

The first article about Father’s Day was on the front page of the New York Times in 1913, under the title “FATHER TO HAVE HIS DAY.; Bill in Congress to Give Him the First Sunday in June.”

By 1924, the concept of a national Father’s Day earned the endorsement of  President Calvin Coolidge. However, it was not until 1966 that a presidential proclamation declared the third Sunday of June as Father's Day. This proclamation by President Lyndon Johnson was made permanent by President Richard Nixon in 1972. So, looking back, we have two mourning daughters and Richard Nixon to thank for this most humble of holidays.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Sam Brounstein

Im a writer/filmmaker from Brooklyn. Northwestern University Graduate with a B.S. in Radio/Television/Film. I am the Bear Jew, hear me roar.

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