A North American Father's Day Legacy

"A father is always making his baby into a little woman.  And when she is a woman he turns her back again."  Enid Bagnold

     In May, I wrote a post detailing the history of Mother's Day.  Since today we celebrate our fathers on this Father's Day, I gathered some information on the history of this holiday as well.  I hope you will find it enlightening:

     Unlike Mother's Day, which was celebrated in England dating back to the 1600's, the first observance of Father's Day took place in Fairmont, West Virginia, on July 5th, 1908.  Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton was still mourning the death of her own father when the Monongah Mining Disaster occurred, leaving around a thousand children fatherless.  Desiring to honor the lives of the 250+ fathers who had been lost, Mrs. Clayton organized the event, suggesting her pastor, Robert Thomas Webb, honor those fathers with a service, thus considered the first modern "Father's Day".  It is assumed Mrs. Clayton was influenced by the first celebration (though it wasn't yet an officially recognized holiday) of Mother's Day that same year which occurred just a few miles away.

     Because the city was overwhelmed by other events such as the celebration of Independence Day and the death of a 16 year old girl, the day was not officially registered as a holiday and was not celebrated again. 

     Instead, credit for Father's Day went to Sonora Dodd from Spokane who invented her own Father's Day celebration in 1910, also influenced by Jarvis' Mother's Day.  Sonora, with the assistance of her pastor, Reverend Dr. Conrad Bluhm, took the idea to the Spokane YMCA.  The Spokane YMCA, along with the Ministerial Alliance endorsed her idea and helped it spread.  

     Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who reared his six children in Spokane, Washington.  Sonora suggested June 5th, her fathers birth date, be established as the day to honor all fathers, but she didn't provide the organizers with enough time to make arrangements and so June 19th, 1910 was designated as the first Father's Day celebration and sermons honoring fathers were presented throughout the city.

     A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913, a few years after Sonora's celebration.  Although President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane for the purpose of making it official, Congress resisted, fearing it would become commercialized (this was before the commercialization of Mother's Day, which was signed into national observance in 1914).

     Again in 1924 (ten years after Mother's Day had been recognized as a holiday) President Calvin Coolidge recommended that the day be observed by the nation, but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation.  

     Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal in 1957 accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for forty years while honoring mothers, thus "[singling] out just one of our two parents".  

     Nine years later, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.  Six years later, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed it into law and made the day a permanent national holiday.  

     Clayton's original celebration was forgotten until 1972 when an attendant of the celebration sought to recover the lost Father's Day legacy Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton first began.  The celebration which honored the miners in 1908 is now held every year in the Central United Methodist Church since the original Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church was torn down in 1922.  Fairmont is now promoted as the "Home of the First Father's Day Service". 

     Today, Father's Day is celebrated worldwide in over fifty countries due to the vision of these women, although observed on different days and months than our own North American Father's Day.

{I obtained my information from Wikipedia and Spokane: Birthplace of Father's Day, and some portions of this post are a direct quote from same.}
h. rae

1 comment:

  1. h.rae, thank you so much for the sweet Father's Day wishes you sent to the men in my life, that was so sweet of you! I'm sorry I missed this post until now, I always look forward to the insightful and thoughtful posts you put together. ~Jen


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