Father’s Day History

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Father’s Day originated in Spokane, Washington thanks to Sonora Smart Dodd (1882 – 1978). After Sonora’s mother passed away, her father, a Civil War veteran, raised her and five sons. Inspired by a sermon about Jarvis’ Mother’s Day at Central Methodist Episcopal Church in 1909, Sonora told her pastor that fathers should also have a similar holiday honoring them. The third Sunday in June was chosen for that memorable day. So, the first Father’s Day celebration was held in the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910.

In the 1930s Dodd began raising awareness of Father’s Day at a national level. Shop owners selling typical men’s items such as tobacco, pipes, ties etc., were willing to assist her. Since 1938 she had the help of the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers to consolidate and organize a commercial promotion. For several years Americans resisted the holiday, perceiving it as an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day. Newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up. They kept promoting Father’s Day until it finally succeeded.

A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration and wanted to make it official, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be observed by the nation, but did not issue a national proclamation. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. The day was made a permanent, national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

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