Jun 15, 2012
By Deanna Del Ciello
There are certain holidays that always raise the question “Where did they come from? Why is there a day designated for this?” Most people settle on the answer that certain holidays were created by greeting card companies. But Father’s Day, in fact, was not and went through years of opposition from citizens and the government before it was finally declared a national holiday.
Father’s Day can thank its creation to its twin and more popular holiday, Mother’s Day. Activists Ann Reeves Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe can be credited with the creation of Mother’s Day in the post-Civil War era, in an effort to connect the mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers. Mother’s Day became a commercial holiday in 1908 when, after being inspired by Jarvis’ daughter Anna who wanted to honor her own mother by making the day a national holiday, the John Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia sponsored a service dedicated to mothers in its auditorium. When the connection was made between Mother’s Day and retailers, the holiday became widely accepted and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson approved the resolution that officially made the second Sunday in May a day to honor mothers.
After Mother’s Day became so successful, there was a push to create similar holidays to honor other family members. Father’s Day was the choice that was most likely to succeed. On July 5, 1908, the nation’s first event honoring fathers was held in a West Virginia church: a sermon that was given in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. This event was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday.
Following the service in West Virginia, a woman from Spokane, Washington, became inspired to create a holiday for fathers. Sonora Smart Dodd was one of six children raised by Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, who was a widower and raised his children on his own. After hearing a sermon about Jarvis’ Mother’s Day in 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday honoring them. She originally suggested her father’s birthday which was June 5, but the pastors didn’t have enough time to prepare their sermons so the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June. After gaining more support for the holiday, Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.
Eventually the holiday began to spread. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge encouraged state governments to observe Father’s Day but many men continued to disdain the day. One historian wrote that men “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving.”
It took a few decades after the first celebration of fathers for the day to become a national holiday. Americans had originally resisted the holiday because they saw it as an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day. Newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes aimed at the holiday. Congress was also against the holiday, fearing that it would become commercialized and rejected two attempts to make it official.
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