Father’s Day: A surprising history

Every third Sunday in June, a special day is dedicated to honor the men we call Dad, as well as the other father figures in our lives. Aside from the layers of commercialism attached to virtually every holiday, it is not difficult to see past that to understand and appreciate the true meaning of the day, especially when looking back at its intriguing and endearing history.

By some accounts, a daughter’s devotion and love for her father is what started it all. Sonora Smart Dodd was a resident of Spokane, Washington, and one of six children born to Mr. and Mrs. William Smart. Unfortunately, Sonora’s mother died during childbirth, leaving William, a Civil War veteran, to raise his children. It is said that while listening to a church sermon in honor of Mother’s Day, Sonora was inspired to promote a day for Dads as well. The first Father’s Day was held on June 19, 1910. Thanks to Sonora’s promotion of the day within her community, Washington state declared it an official holiday.

Other sources, however, indicate that something like a Father’s Day celebration occurred in 1908. After having lost her father, in a mining accident (which claimed the lives of other fathers in the community), Grace Golden Clayton suggested that a day should be established for fathers only. A service was held on July 5 mourning not only the loss of those men but celebrating and honoring them as fathers, as a one-time event.

Although many instances may be found of individuals and communities coming together to honor fathers over time, it took Congress many decades to declare it a holiday. According to the Library of Congress site, it was in “1966, when President Lyndon Johnson declared that the third Sunday in June would be Father’s Day.” However, it was not until 1972 that Father’s Day was officially declared as a national holiday by President Richard Nixon (who was, perhaps not coincidentally, engaged in his re-election campaign).

So, while we are out buying that yearly gift of a colorful neck tie or bowling ball, let’s make sure to remember to truly honor those great men we call Dad by expressing our appreciation for them and letting them know that their celebration goes beyond one day in June.

This post was contributed by Michelle Villarreal, collections coordinator.

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