Happy Fathersí Day
June 16, 2012
By St. Rep. Gary Cross
On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nationís first event explicitly in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous Decemberís explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday.
Sonora Dodd, of Washington, first had the idea of a ďFatherís Day.Ē She thought of the idea for Fatherís Day while listening to a Motherís Day sermon in 1909. Sonora wanted a special day to honor her father, William Smart. Smart, who was a Civil War veteran, was widowed when his wife died while giving birth to their sixth child. Mr. Smart was left to raise the newborn and his other five children by himself on a rural farm in eastern Washington State.
After Sonora became an adult she realized the selflessness her father had shown in raising his children as a single parent. It was her father that made all the parental sacrifices and was, in the eyes of his daughter, a courageous, selfless, and loving man. Sonoraís father was born in June, so she chose to hold the first Fatherís Day celebration in Spokane, Washington on the 19th of June, 1910. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nationís first statewide Fatherís Day on July 19, 1910.
Slowly, the holiday 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 urged state governments to observe Fatherís Day. However, many men continued to disdain the day. As one historian writes, they ďscoffed at the holidayís 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 movement arose to scrap Motherís Day and Fatherís Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parentsí Day. Every year on Motherís Day, pro-Parentsí Day groups rallied in New York Cityís Central Park--a public reminder, said Parentsí Day activist and radio performer Robert Spere, ďthat both parents should be loved and respected together.Ē Paradoxically, however, the Depression derailed this effort to combine and de-commercialize the holidays.
Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Fatherís Day a ďsecond ChristmasĒ for men, promoting goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards. When World War II began, advertisers began to argue that celebrating Fatherís Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort. By the end of the war, Fatherís Day may not have been a federal holiday, but it was a national institution.
Then in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Fatherís Day.
In 1972, in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed the law making it a permanent national holiday. Today, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Fatherís Day gifts.