The history of Father’s Day

Father and Daughter

Fatherhood was first recognised as an event in the US after Anna Jarvis’ first celebration of Mother’s Day in 1908, which followed earlier British observations of Mothering Sunday.

Behind this first event to celebrate fathers in 1908 was Grace Golden Clayton, from Fairmont, West Virginia who felt compelled to act following the previous December’s Monongah Mining Disaster which killed 361 men, among them 250 fathers.

One thousand children lost their fathers, and in their honour Clayton encouraged her pastor, Rev. Robert Thomas Webb, to hold a service at the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South.

Clayton understood the pain of not having a father having lost hers years earlier and chose the closest date to his birthday for the event, although it was overshadows by the Independence Day celebrations the day before.

While Clayton was responsible for the first recognition of fatherhood and the paternal bond, her work didn’t directly encourage the creation of Father’s Day.

The day was only recognised after Sonora Smart Dodd picked up on the idea the following year in her quest to honour fathers in the same way as mothers.

One of six children, Dodd, born in Arkansas in 1882, was 16 years old when her mother died in childbirth leaving her father to raise them alone. 

After listening to a Mother’s Day sermon at the Central Methodist Episcopal Church in 1909, Dodd determined that fathers deserved equal recognition and she began the campaign to get the day officially recognised.

The YMCA in Spokane hosted the first such ‘Father’s Day’ on June 19, 1910.

A number of towns and cities across America followed suit with support for Father’s Day quickly increasing throughout the US.

In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge pressured state governments to mark the celebration and he was followed by President Lyndon Johnson who issued the first presidential proclamation honouring fathers in 1966, making the third Sunday in June Father’s Day.

This was signed into law six years later when President Richard Nixon established the day as a national holiday after a campaign by a number of public figures. These included Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who in 1957 wrote to Congress: “Either we honour both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honouring either one.

“But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable.”

As Dodd’s message spread to other countries, the UK followed suit after World War II although like Mother’s Day it isn’t a national holiday.

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