The Surprising History of Father's Day

History of Father's Day

From whipping up all kinds of healthy treats to searching for a wow-worthy gift weeks in advance, Mother's Day is the perfect chance to thank our mothers for all the hard work they've done raising us and teaching us right from wrong. But, let's be honest: Even though moms are the best, it's high time we gave the unsung heroes of every family, a.k.a. the dads, the attention they deserve, amirite?

Celebrated annually on the third Sunday of June (in most countries), Father's Day is a celebration dedicated to dads everywhere, honoring them for protecting, providing, and caring for their families. Of course, the holiday these days has nothing to do with how it all started back in the 20th century. So, if you want to let your dad know how come he's being pampered and showered with gifts every June, this brief history of Father's Day will do just the trick.

Moms Paved The Way For Dads

Considering most aspects of society were dominated by men during the 19th century, it was pretty tough for women to stand out. However, their role as mothers inspired many to dedicate a day solely to them and that's how Mother's Day came to be (in its unofficial form, at least). But what does this have to do with Father's Day?

Well, seeing that mothers get the lion's share of attention compared to dads, a woman from the state of Washington (her name was Sonora Smart Dodd(1) if you're curious) thought of honoring her father while listening to a Mother's Day sermon at church in 1909. She did that out of pure respect of him as he was a Civil War veteran and widower who managed to raise six children on his own after his wife passed away giving birth to their last one. 

Lore has it that to guarantee the success of her quest, Sonora reached out to various local authorities, from churches and the YMCA to shop owners and government officials. That explains why her idea of "celebrating fathers and not just mothers" was a huge success. It's also worth noting that this concept may have resonated with a lot of people at the time, considering many had lost their parents (fathers, in particular) during the Civil War. So, coming 19th June 1910, Washington was the first state to officially celebrate Father's Day.

But, that wasn't the first time dads found themselves in the spotlight. A year before Sonora's praise-worthy attempt, in 1908, a Methodist church in West Virginia held a Sunday Sermon to commemorate 362 men (250 of them were fathers) who died in the previous December during an explosion at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah(2). This commemoration was initiated by Grace Golden Clayton, who shared her idea with the local church to honor the fathers lost due to this tragic incident.

However, the celebration was a one-time thing since it happened with the sole purpose of honoring these men. So, unlike Sonora's "campaign" (if we can call it that), this celebration didn't mean to last.

To sum up, Mother's Day (or at least the acclaim moms were receiving through this holiday) made many people think that fathers deserved just as much attention. And that's pretty much why more and more people embraced this holiday as the years passed by.

And Then Came Parent's Day... Or Maybe Not

But, it wasn't smooth sailing from there. You see, despite the purest of intentions to dedicate a day on dads alone, History.com states that several activists during the 1920s and 1930s tried to scrap both Mother's and Father's Day and instead create a celebration that honors both parents equally. Dubbed as Parent's Day, this new idea didn't hit home with most folks, and that's why it never really took off.

Making Things Official

So, for several decades, Father's Day was only celebrated locally, making a name for itself as a national institution rather an official holiday. In fact, it took more than 60 years for the government to recognize Father's Day as a federal holiday. To be exact, it was 1972 when Richard Nixon signed a proclamation that made Father's Day an official holiday. Fun fact: If we're being honest, Lyndon B. Johnson paved the way for this Nixon proclamation by designating the third Sunday of June as Father's Day in 1966 through an executive order.

Father's Day: Commercial Gimmick or A Sign of Affection?

While the holiday started out with the best of intentions (at least on behalf of some individuals), most Americans resisted it - especially during the first two decades- thinking it was more of a commercialized replica of Mother's Day. This way, merchants could cash in on the popularity of the celebration, all in the name of fatherhood.

Of course, that wasn't the only reason Father's Day was sort of... dissed back in the day. You see, stereotypes surrounding the macho, manly man were thriving back then and, thus, many guys saw this celebration as an attempt to squash their manliness by forcing them to show a rather affectionate side. Luckily, such beliefs aren't an issue these days because guys are more acceptive of their emotional side, which is why Father's Day has grown on us.

So, that was the history of Father's Day. What do you think? Do dads deserve all the attention or it's all just a commercial gimmick? Feel free to share your thoughts in the section down below!


  1. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/fathers-day
  2. https://www.britannica.com/event/Monongah-mining-disaster-of-1907

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