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Father’s Day: A National Holiday that Took its Time

Father’s Day:  June 21, 2020

This year Father’s Day falls on June 21.  According to the NRF (National Retail Federation) an estimated 75% of Americans plan to celebrate the holiday and will spend a projected $17b despite Coronavirus.  Although Father’s Day is a well-loved holiday, it took a surprisingly long time to gain acceptance – approximately 60 years.  If it wasn’t for President Nixon finally signing the resolution into law in 1972, June 21 this year might be like any other ordinary Sunday for American dads.

Memorial Service for Mining Accident

On December 6 1907 a tragedy occurred that was described as the worst mining disaster in American history. 362 men and boys lost their lives in an explosion down the mines in Monongah, West Virginia.  The following year on July 5 1908 a church in Fairmont, West Virginia conducted a sermon to honor the memory of the 200 fathers who perished.

Fathers Day Remembrance
Monongah Mining Disaster Memorial

Although it was allegedly the first service of its kind, neither the city of Fairmont nor the State of West Virginia proclaimed an annual ‘Father’s Day’ perhaps because of the sad circumstances.  Consequently, and rather sadly, Mrs Grace Golden Clayton who organized the event did not receive historic recognition for laying the foundation of Father’s Day in America.

Father’s Day Petition by a Motherless Daughter

The person credited with the founding of Father’s Day was 16-year-old Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Washington.  Sonora was one of six children raised by widower and war veteran William Jack Smart.  She held her father in great esteem.  After hearing a church sermon about the newly recognized Mother’s Day, Sonora felt that fatherhood needed recognition as well.

Father's Day Sonora
Sonora and her father William

Sonora approached the Spokane Ministerial Alliance having garnered some support from the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials.  She hoped that her father’s birth date of June 5 might be the designated day.  However the Mayor and local churches needed more time to prepare for festivities.  Thus, Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day two weeks later on June 19, 1910.  It was the third Sunday in the month and its legacy was longlasting.

Sonora proposed roses to honor fathers – red for fathers still living and white for those deceased.  She allegedly brought roses and gifts to the homes of those unable to attend the service.  Sonora’s passion for Father’s Day continued on her mission to elevate Father’s Day to the status of a national holiday.

Presidential Endorsements by Wilson and Coolidge

In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson opened the Father’s Day church services in Spokane by unfurling the American flag by via a special telegram sent from Washington DC.  Having made Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1915 Wilson was keen to push forward the equivalent for fathers.  Unfortunately Congress was resistant.  Members feared such a day would dilute support for Mother’s Day.  They also feared it would commercialize the day for fathers, causing more harm than good.

Treat Dad to Healthy Gourmet this Father’s Day

President Calvin Coolidge later in 1924 asked state governments to observe a special day for fathers.  However, he refused to issue an official proclamation.  This may have been because many men continued to disdain the day.  As one historian writes, they “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products–often paid for by the father himself.”

A Pro Parents Day Movement

During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  The idea was to replace them with a single holiday – Parents’ Day. Every year on Mother’s Day, pro-Parents’ Day groups rallied in New York City’s Central Park.  This was a public reminder, according to Parents’ Day activist and radio performer Robert Spere.  He stated that the movement’s mantra was “that both parents should be loved and respected together.”  The movement died out in the 1940’s but if it had gone through, we would now be celebrating Parent’s Day with the slogan of the campaign “A kiss for mother, a hug for dad”.

A Second Christmas

Paradoxically, the Great Depression derailed the effort to combine and de-commercialize separate celebrations for mothers and fathers. 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. The National Retail Dry Goods Association even released a 16-page publication entitled “How to Sell More Goods for Father’s Day”.

Slowly but surely, the retail industry’s devotion to the cause and the shifting role of fathers in the household as care-givers and home-makers began to make a difference.  They helped transition Father’s Day from a mocked and debated custom to a mainstream holiday. However, federal government had yet to endorse it.

Honoring Troops in World War II

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 had evolved into a national institution.

A Nationwide Proclamation

It took until 1966 for President Lyndon Johnson to make a nationwide proclamation endorsing Father’s Day across the country. In his proclamation, Johnson wrote that on June 19, 1966, “I invite State and local governments to cooperate in the observance of that day; and I urge all our people to give public and private expression to the love and gratitude which they bear for their fathers.”  The corresponding Joint Resolution specified “the third Sunday in June of 1966”.  But, it did not give any indication of a repeat the following year.


Fathers Day Nixon
President Nixon with daughters Julie and Tricia, June 13, 1969 at the White House. Photo Credit National Archive/Newsmakers

At long last, in 1970 Congress passed legislation on Father’s Day awarding it national status.  Two years later in 1972, President Richard Nixon eventually made Father’s Day public law, giving it official federal recognition.  Since then it has become big business in the commercial marketplace although Mother’s Day continues to overshadow it in terms of national spending and attention.  Still thinking about what to get Dad this Father’s Day?  A Healthy Gourmet gift card is several gifts rolled into one!  Prepared, healthy meals that boast variety, innovation and global flavors as well as the benefits of convenience and time savings!




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