The third Sunday in June may be a day that sons and daughters remember as the day to buy their dads a gift, but the story of how Father’s Day started is a bit more dramatic.

How it all started

The story starts in December 1907 in West Virginia, USA, where a terrible mining accident killed hundreds of men.

One of the people who lost her father on that sad day was Grace Clayton.

She told a churchman that the 365 fathers and sons who died in the Monongah Mine Disaster should be honored with a special service.

In July 1908, that service took place. And two years later, the idea of honoring all fathers grew. Sonora Smart Dodd, the daughter of a Civil War veteran, took on the job because of the anniversary and the growing popularity of Mother’s Day.

Her dad raised her and her siblings on his own. She wanted to remember him on June 5, which was his birthday. But the third Sunday in June was chosen so pastors could get ready for their sermons.

The first real Father’s Day

On June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Washington, the first official Father’s Day was held. But in the 1920s and 1930s, there was a movement in the United States to combine Mother’s Day and Father’s Day into one day called Parents’ Day.

In an academic paper at Georgia State University, Ralph LaRossa and Jaimie Ann Caroy explain how it was intended for the second Sunday in May.

Robert Spero, who started it, said that the annual Parents’ Day party would be held in Central Park, New York, on Mother’s Day afternoon, May 10, 1931.

He thought that more than 40,000 people would show up. At first, the idea was supported by the president, but now Parents’ Day has “basically been erased from America’s collective memory.”

War makes Father’s Day more important

The authors think that World War II may have helped grow Father’s Day and Mother’s Day as national holidays.

Father's Day

There were also strong interests in keeping Father’s Day and Mother’s Day separate.  Having Father’s Day after Mother’s Day wanted to ensure that the selling season would last longer.

However, US President Lyndon Johnson didn’t recognize Father’s Day as an official holiday until 1966.

National day off

In 1972, his successor, Richard Nixon, signed a law making Father’s Day a national holiday.

It’s not clear when the UK started doing the same thing, but Steve Roud’s book The English Year (2006) says that it entered British popular culture “sometime after the Second World War, not without opposition.”


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