The History of Father's Day
The first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910 in Washington State. However, not until 1972—58 years after Mother’s Day was made official by President Woodrow Wilson—did Father’s Day become a national holiday. The campaign to celebrate fathers didn’t have the same enthusiasm as celebrating mothers–maybe because, as one florist explained, “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.”
On July 5, 1908, a West Virginian church sponsored the nation’s first event honoring fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. But it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday.
The next year in Spokane, Washington, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd tried to establish an official holiday for fathers. She went to the YMCA, local churches, business owners, and government officials to garner support for her idea, and she was successful! On June 19, 1910, Washington State celebrated the first statewide Father’s Day, and the holiday slowly spread. In 1916, President Wilson honored the day by using telegraph signals to unfurl a flag in Spokane when he pressed a button in Washington, D.C. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge encouraged state governments to observe Father’s Day.
Controversy and Commercialism
Strangely, many fathers and men criticized the holiday! As one historian wrote, they “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products–often paid for by the father himself.”
During the 1920s and 1930s, a protest movement formed to demand a single holiday instead, called Parents’ Day, in place of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Each Mother’s Day, pro-Parents’ Day groups protested in New York City’s Central Park. Parents’ Day activist and radio performer Robert Spere commented, “a public reminder that both parents should be loved and respected together.”
The Great Depression, however, deflated these efforts, as retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men; promoting neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards. At the breakout of WWII, advertisers argued that Father’s Day honored American troops and supported the war effort. After the war, Father’s Day was still not a federal holiday, but it became a national institution.
In 1972, in the midst of his arduous presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon made Father’s Day an official national holiday. Today, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts. In other countries–especially in Europe and Latin America–fathers are honored on St. Joseph’s Day, a traditional Catholic holiday that falls on March 19. In the United States and elsewhere, Father’s Day 2022 will occur on Sunday, June 19.