Father’s Day

To explain where Father’s Day came from, we have to start with Mother’s Day, because that came first.  Mother’s Day started during the post-Civil War era in the 1860’s. Activist Anne Reeves Jarvis urged one divided West Virginia town to celebrate the mothers of both Confederate and Union soldiers.  “Mother’s Work Days” helped bring two opposing sides with different interest together at a time of discord for the U.S.  Despite Jarvis’ efforts, Mother’s Day wasn’t officially a commercial holiday until 1908.  Anne Jarvis’ daughter Anna, wanted to honor her mother by making “Mother’s Day” a national holiday. She got the John Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia to sponsor a service dedicated to mothers in their auditorium.  Mother’s Day was an instant hit and got the attention of other retailers that realized they could capitalize on this holiday.

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By 1909 45 states had joined in in celebrating the day, and by 1914 President Woodrow Wilson had made the second sunday in May a national holiday dedicated to, “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”

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Father’s Day however, took a little longer to catch on, probably due to the fact that many men aren’t as sentimental as women and could care less about flowers and gifts.  On June 5th, in 1908, the same year Mother’s Day became an official commercial holiday, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event honoring fathers. The Sunday sermon was dedicated to the 352 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah.  Unlike Mother’s day, it wasn’t recognized annually, it was a one time thing.  

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In May of the following year, 1909, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Washington, was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon and thought her father should be celebrated too.  Dodd’s mother had died during childbirth, leaving her father, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran, to raise her by himself along with his 5 other children. She wanted the day to be celebrated the following year on June 5th, her father’s birthday.  

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Dodd went around to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers, and government officials to gather support for her idea, and was successful doing so.  Although it wasn’t on her father’s birthday, due to the time needed to set up the festivities, the nation’s first Father’s Day was celebrated statewide on June 19th, 1910.  

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During the first official celebration of Father’s Day, young women handed out red roses to fathers during church service, and a basket of roses was passed around, encouraging loved ones to pin a red rose on their person for living fathers and white roses for the deceased.  Dodd and her young son then spent the day handing out roses to the rest of the town, and the idea of Father’s Day began to spread. As mentioned before, it took longer for Father’s Day to catch on than Mother’s Day, in fact, it took a lot longer. Father’s Day wasn’t made an official national holiday until President Richard Nixon signed the law in 1972.  Today Father’s Day in nationally recognized on the third Sunday in June.

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