The Father’s Day Tradition

For those of you that don’t know, The Stamp and Coin Place is located in Washington state; the beautiful Pacific Northwest is home to many traditions and has some great history. One interesting piece of history is that Father’s Day was founded and first celebrated in Washington state.


Sonora Dodd; circa 1910.
Courtesy of Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society

The story goes that Sonora Smart Dodd was attending a Mother’s Day sermon at Central Methodist Episcopal Church in 1909 and thought Father’s deserved a similar holiday to celebrate their love and contribution to a family. Her father, William Jackson Smart, was a Civil War veteran and widowed when is wife gave birth to their sixth child. As a single parent he raised his kids on a small farm between Creston, WA and Wilbur, WA (near Spokane).

Dodd initially suggested to celebrate Father’s Day on June 5, her father’s birthday. But the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June.The day did not have much success initially. In the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, and it faded into relative obscurity, even in Spokane. In the 1930s Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level. She had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties and tobacco pipes.

Since 1938 she had the help of the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion. Americans resisted the holiday during a few decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up: they kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their adverts, and they eventually succeeded. By the mid-1980s the Father’s Council wrote that “[Father’s Day] has become a Second Christmas for all the men’s gift-oriented industries.”

A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration and wanted to make it official, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized. US President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be observed by the nation, but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 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, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

In addition to Father’s Day, International Men’s Day is celebrated in many countries on November 19th for men and boys who are not fathers.

A “Father’s Day” service was held on July 5th, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, now known as Central United Methodist Church. Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father when, on December 1907, the Monongah Mining Disaster in nearby Monongah killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand fatherless children. Clayton suggested her pastor Robert Thomas Webb to honor all those fathers.Clayton chose the Sunday nearest to the birthday of her father, Methodist minister Fletcher Golden.


Monongah Mining Disaster

Clayton’s event did not have repercussions outside of Fairmont for several reasons, among them: the city was overwhelmed by other events, the celebration was never promoted outside of the town itself and no proclamation was made in the City Council. Also two events overshadowed this event: the celebration of Independence Day July 4, 1908, with 12,000 attendants and several shows including a hot air balloon event, which took over the headlines in the following days, and the death of a 16-year-old girl on July 4. The local church and Council were overwhelmed and they did not even think of promoting the event, and it was not celebrated again for many years. The original sermon was not reproduced in press and it was lost. Finally, Clayton was a quiet person, who never promoted the event or even talked to other persons about it.

While Dodd is the one that did the legwork to make Father’s Day into what we know it to be today there are several other stories that tell of Father’s Day celebration that also likely had an impact on making it a national holiday:

In 1911, Jane Addams proposed a citywide Father’s Day in Chicago, but she was turned down.

In 1912, there was a Father’s Day celebration in Vancouver, Washington, suggested by Methodist pastor J. J. Berringer of the Irvington Methodist Church. They believed mistakenly that they had been the first to celebrate such a day.

Harry C. Meek, member of Lions Clubs International, claimed that he had first the idea for Father’s Day in 1915. Meek claimed that the third Sunday of June was chosen because it was his birthday. The Lions Club has named him “Originator of Father’s Day”. Meek made many efforts to promote Father’s Day and make it an official holiday.

No matter where Father’s Day came from we are happy it exists today and gives us an excuse to connect with our loved ones and celebrate all the wonderful Fathers.

Happy Father’s Day 🙂

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