The Father’s Day Crusade

by the Town of Surfside Beach

In terms of national recognition, Father’s Day is a relatively new holiday; Richard Nixon signed it into law as a permanent holiday in 1972. Its origins, however, stretch back a bit farther; it was first celebrated in Spokane, Washington, on June 19, 1910. 

Father’s Day was the brainchild of Sonora Smart Dodd, whose father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a two-time widower who raised his six children alone. 

After hearing a sermon about Anna Jarvis’s Mother’s Day at Central Methodist Episcopal Church in 1909, Sonora told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday to honor them. 

Although she initially suggested June 5, her father’s birthday, the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and Washington celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day several weeks later, instead. 

On that first Father’s Day, church sermons across Spokane were dedicated to dad; red and white roses were passed out in honor of living and deceased fathers; and the mayor of Spokane and governor of Washington issued proclamations.

During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether in favor of a single holiday— Parent’s Day. 

However, the Great Depression derailed this effort to combine and de-commercialize the independent holidays, as during this time, struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men. They promoted goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs, sporting goods, and greeting cards.

When World War II began, retailers began to argue 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.

A bill to give national recognition to the holiday was introduced to Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration; he wanted to officialize the holiday, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized. 

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be observed by the nation but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation. Two earlier attempts to formally recognize the holiday had been defeated by Congress. 

In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for forty years while honoring mothers, thus “[singling] out just one of our two parents.” 

In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Six years later, in 1972, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law.

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.

This June, the Town of Surfside Beach wishes all dads a healthy and Happy Father’s Day. Thank you for all you do. 

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