Father’s Day

Father’s Day is a holiday that is celebrated annually to honor fathers for their contributions to their children’s lives. The holiday was first celebrated in the United States on June 19, 1910, in the state of Washington. However, it took 58 years for it to become a nationwide holiday in the United States, as it was only in 1972 that it became official, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day official.

The Inspiration for Father’s Day

The origins of Mother’s Day can be traced back to the post-Civil War era, where peace-and-reconciliation campaigns were being carried out. During the 1860s, a West Virginia town celebrated “Mother’s Work Days” at the urging of activist Ann Reeves Jarvis. The event brought together the mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers, and it was the inspiration for Mother’s Day as we know it today.

The Commercialization of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day did not become a commercial holiday until 1908 when the John Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia sponsored a service dedicated to mothers in its auditorium. This association with retailers saw great potential for profit in the holiday, and as a result, Mother’s Day caught on immediately. By 1909, 45 states observed the day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution that made the second Sunday in May a holiday in honor of “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”

The Slow Emergence of Father’s Day

The campaign to celebrate the nation’s fathers did not meet with the same enthusiasm as Mother’s Day. One florist explained that “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.” The nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers was a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. It took place on July 5, 1908, in a West Virginia church but was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday.

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The Establishment of Father’s Day

The first attempt to establish an official Father’s Day equivalent to Mother’s Day was in 1910. A woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, who was one of six children raised by a widower, went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers, and government officials to drum up support for her idea. She was successful, and Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on June 19, 1910.

The Spread of Father’s Day

The holiday slowly spread, and 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 urged state governments to observe Father’s Day. Today, the day honoring fathers is celebrated in the United States on the third Sunday of June: Father’s Day 2021 occurs on June 20.

Father’s Day Controversy and Commercialism

Many men disdained the holiday, as they scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers, gift-giving, and the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products. During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parents’ Day. This effort was derailed by the Great Depression, which saw struggling retailers and advertisers redouble their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men, promoting goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs, and other sporting goods, and greeting cards.

The Emergence of Father’s Day as a National Institution

When World War II began, advertisers argued that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort. By the end of the war, Father’s Day may not have been a federal holiday, but it was a national institution. In 1972, in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday at last. Today, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts.

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Father’s Day is a holiday that has had a long and winding history. From its humble beginnings in a West Virginia church to becoming a national institution, the holiday has seen its fair share of controversy and commercialization. Despite this, Father’s Day remains an important day to celebrate and honor the fathers in our lives. Father’s Day 2023 will occur on Sunday, June 18.

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