Today, June 19th, we celebrate Father's Day. In the spirit of "Mother's Day" we use this day to honor our fathers, grandfathers and for a lucky few great grandfathers. Families will get together in their homes or in restaurants around the world to show our love for the men that gave us life. What though is the story of Father's Day? When did it come into being? How did it come into being? Unlike Mother's Day, the holiday for dads had a rather rocky start. The holiday wouldn't even get formal recognition until 1966, nearly 60 years after the first observance of the day.
The first official observance of Father's Day was planned by Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1910. Inspired by Anna Jarvis's efforts to establish Mother's Day, Ms. Dodd wanted to honor her father. He was a veteran of the Civil War who had reared her 5 siblings as a single parent. Originally she wanted the day to be her Father's birthday, June 5th, but there wasn't enough time to plan the event. The planners chose June 19th, the 3rd Sunday of June. This day would stick, and eventually solidified into law.
While luminaries and Presidents of the day and of succeeding generations would unofficially support the holiday, it would not receive proper recognition for many decades. Presidents like Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge would recommend that the nation formalize the holiday but Father's Day wouldn't receive official status until 1966 when Lyndon Johnson named the 3rd Sunday of June, Father's Day; some 6 decades after Ms. Dodd's First Father's Day event.
As it turns out Ms. Dodd wasn't the first to plan a Father's Day celebration. In 1908 a Grace Golden Clayton convinced her Pastor in Fairmont, West Virginia to hold a service to honor all the men killed in the Monongah Mining Disaster that occurred during December of the previous year. That disaster killed 361 men, of which 250 were fathers. On that day, nearly 1,000 children were left fatherless. Ms. Clayton, who also lost her Father in the disaster, wanted a way to honor all the men and her father. She thus chose a Sunday nearest her dad's birthday to celebrate the new holiday. It was Sunday, July 5th.
The timing of the event was unfortunate as the previous day had been the celebration of Independence Day, July 4th. Many events were held, including a hot air balloon event attended by some 12,000 people. On that same day a 16-year-old girl died. Those two events overtook the headlines that weekend. The church and city council also failed to promote the event. The last blow to this nascent holiday was that the sermon was not reproduced on paper and therefore nothing but the memory of those attending survived.
It would be many more years before the holiday would be celebrated again in Fairmont. Interestingly and possibly linked, Ms. Jarvis' Mother's Day was first celebrated the year before only 15 miles away in Grafton, West Virginia.
In 1972 the holiday was finally recognized and became law. One of the attendees of the event saw Nixon's proclamation and worked to restore the history of Ms. Clayton's 1908 Father's Day celebration. America learned that both Ms. Dodd and Ms. Clayton had independently thought of celebrating Father's Day to not only honor their own dads, but all dad's.
Thirty-nine years have passed since The United States made Father's Day an official national holiday; and just over 100 years since Ms. Clayton and Ms. Dodd celebrated their Father's Day events. Many aspects of life have changed since that time. Step-fathers and adoptive fathers are far more common. Single dads, like Ms Clayton's father are also more common. Even households with two dads are not that rare. Fatherhood has come a long way in the past century, but the love of a daughter or a son for dad never changes.
I thank both William Jackson Smart, father of Sonora Dodd, and minister Fletcher Golden, father of Ms. Clayton, for raising two daughters that so loved their dads so much they wanted to create a holiday in their honor.
To all the fathers out there, from this father (and grandfather), have a wonderful Father's day.
"Any man can be a father. It takes a special person to be a dad."
- Author Unknown