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History of Father's Day

African American father carries smiling daughter on his back

The celebration of Mother’s Day was brand new when a similar holiday for fathers was suggested. However, the idea of a day to honor fathers didn’t get much love at first. 

While sentimentality towards mothers ran high in the early 1900s, the concept of a day to honor fathers seemed a bit redundant. Back then, American society was firmly patriarchal. Father was the breadwinner, head of the family and strict disciplinarian; children were expected to honor their father every day. 

Plus, as the family financial officer, the man of the house was skeptical of a day for gift-giving. After all, his family would be buying things with his own hard-earned wages.

Nevertheless, Father’s Day gradually caught on, thanks to one persistent daughter and some significant societal changes.

The Origins of Father's Day

The first Father’s Day was actually a memorial service held in July 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia. It honored hundreds of men killed in a mining accident that left more than 1,000 children fatherless. 

A year later, Sonora Smart Dodd attended a Mother’s Day church service and thought there should be a similar day for fathers. Her own father, William Smart, raised Sonora and her younger siblings after their mother died. 

“He was both father and mother to me and my brothers and sisters,” Dodd once told a news reporter.

Celebrating his strong presence in her life seemed only natural. 

Dodd petitioned local ministers in support of a celebration honoring fathers. The first Father’s Day service was held June 19, 1910, in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. 

That might have been the end of things, if not for a congratulatory message Dodd received from William Jennings Bryan, one of the era’s most influential politicians. The media picked up the story, stimulating national support for a day honoring fathers.

The History of Father's Day

Dodd continued to fight for a national Father’s Day. However, while the celebration of Father’s Day became an American custom, it still wasn’t an official holiday.

Even when President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe Father’s Day in 1924, the holiday wasn’t popular with everyone. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, some people argued for a single Parents’ Day.

Two major events anchored Father’s Day into our culture: The Great Depression and World War II. 

Retailers desperate for business during the Depression encouraged sales of practical Father’s Day gifts, like socks, ties or pipe tobacco, that dad might not buy for himself. During the early 1940s, supporting Father’s Day was tantamount to supporting war efforts, notes The Almanac. By the time the war was over, the holiday was well established. But it still wasn’t official.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed the first proclamation to celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June.

Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon declared Father’s Day a national holiday.

dad and infant nap together

When is Father's Day?

The tradition of holding Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June began with the first celebration advocated by Sonora Smart Dodd in 1910. Celebrating Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June became custom and was made official when the national holiday was established.

Father's Day Traditions

On Father’s Day, we recognize the important role of fathers in the lives of their children. Often, we spend time with him in the way he enjoys best, whether that’s going to a movie or baseball game, spending time outdoors, sharing a few beers or enjoying a meal together. 

The fact that the holiday falls near the first day of summer makes it a perfect time to host a Father’s Day barbecue or to plan a day hiking or fishing.

Father’s Day is still a great time for a gift for dad! While he might not need socks or a necktie, he’d probably enjoy a Father’s Day card and a present tailored to his interests.

What Countries Celebrate Father's Day?

The modern Father’s Day celebration may have been established in America, but many other countries hold celebrations honoring dad.

- In Spain, Portugal and other countries with strong Catholic populations, Father’s Day is observed on March 19, the day set aside to honor St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
- Taiwan chose August 8 as Father’s Day, because the words for the number “eight”  and “Papa” sound similar.  
- Father’s Day in Thailand coincides with the December 5 birthday of a former king.
- Australia and New Zealand celebrate Father’s Day in the spring, which falls in September in the land down under. Originally celebrated in June, the holiday was moved early in the 20th century to be more evenly spaced with Mother’s Day.
- Scandinavians moved Father’s Day to the second Sunday in November as a way to help boost the economy during a slow time of year.

Happy Father's Day!

Dad’s role has changed dramatically since the first Father’s Day was celebrated. In general, dads have become more involved in their children’s daily lives. They’re teachers, caregivers, role models, advisors and so much more. 

Remember this Father’s Day to recognize dad for his love, hard work and dedication to his children and family.

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