The History of Father's Day

New York City, Children (6-11) embracing father outdoors
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In the United States, there are two claims to the first Father's Day celebration. The first claim to Father's Day was in the State of Washington on June 19, 1908. This new holiday was proposed by a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd.    Her father was William Jackson Smart, who reared his six children in Spokane, Washington as a single father. Although she initially suggested setting Father's Day on June 5 in Spokane (which was her father's birthday), the other people involved did not think they would have time enough for a fitting celebration.

So the first Father's Day was held instead on the third Sunday of June. The first June Father's Day was celebrated on June 19, 1908, in Spokane, Washington, at the Spokane YMCA.  

The governor of Washington designated Father's Day a holiday in that state in 1910, recognizing the success of the efforts in Spokane.  

In 1908, just a few weeks after the Spokane event, an independent celebration of Father's Day was held in Fairmont, West Virginia on July 5, 1908.  A mining accident had occurred in nearby Monongah, West Virginia about 7 months prior. In this accident, 361 men were killed, about 250 of them fathers.  The accident left over 1,000 fatherless children in the region.  One of the Fairmont women who lost her father recommended to the pastor of the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South that they host a special celebration of fathers.  

Other efforts to create a Father's Day were made in a variety of cities in the United States.

  There was an effort in Chicago in 1911 but it was turned down by the city council.  Vancouver, Washington had one of the first official Father's Day celebrations in 1912 when a local Methodist pastor began pushing for it.  

The National Lions Club picked up the effort to create a national holiday in 1915.

 One of the Lions Club members, Harry Meek was a major proponent and sponsor of the efforts to create a Father's Day.  In many circles, he is known as the originator of Father's Day. 

Orator and politician William Jennings Bryan embraced the concept immediately and began sharing his support broadly. President Woodrow Wilson was the first U.S. President to celebrate Father's Day in June of 1916, a party hosted by his family. Wilson pushed to make Father's Day a national holiday, but members of Congress resisted.  Their fear was that a Father's Day would simply commercialize fatherhood and would diminish interest and support in the Mother's Day national holiday.  President Calvin Coolidge recommended it as a national holiday in 1924 but again encountered resistance.  He then asked state governments to consider declaring the third Sunday in June as Father's Day in all 50 states, bypassing Congressional resistance.

The effort to formally recognize Father's Day was derailed in the 1920's and 1930's by an effort to combine Mother's Day and Father's Day into a single Parent's Day holiday.

 As the Depression hit and retailers were trying to find ways to increase sales, the Parent's Day idea fell out of favor.  As World War II began, many Americans embraced the idea of Father's Day as a way to honor men serving in the military and Father's Day became a common practice, even without the formal designation by Congress as a national holiday equal to Mother's Day.  

"Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable."

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson by executive order made Father's Day a holiday to be celebrated on the third Sunday of June. The holiday was not officially recognized as a federal holiday until 1972, when it was formally acknowledged by a Congressional Act setting it permanently on the third Sunday in June nationwide.