Have you ever wondered how Father’s Day came to be? The history of Father’s Day is a long and interesting story.
Basically, there are two theories of who established the first Father’s Day celebration. One holds that it was created by a woman named Grace Golden Clayton in West Virginia, and the other that it was begun by Sonora Smart Dodd in the state of Washington.
Grace Golden Clayton was a woman who resided in Fairmont, West Virginia, and who suggested to her pastor that the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church hold an event to honor fathers in the community. The celebration was held on her father’s birthday, July 5, 1908.
Mrs. Clayton was probably influenced by several factors. First of all, she still missed and loved her father, the Reverend Fletcher Golden, who had passed away 18 years previously. Secondly, Mrs. Clayton was no stranger to loss, having lost two babies of her own in infancy, and undoubtedly thought it was important to honor one’s loved ones. She was probably also influenced by the first Mother’s Day celebration, which had taken place the previous year in a community less than 20 miles away.
The strongest influence, however, was undoubtedly the town’s grief over the Monongah Mining Disaster, which had taken place in Monongah, West Virginia, the previous December. 362 men were killed in terrible explosion, many of them husbands and father. In all, there were 250 widows created that day, and more than 1,000 children were made fatherless. It is still considered the worst mining disaster to have ever taken place in the United States.
The other theory about the origin of Father’s Day is that it was created by Sonora Smart Dodd, a resident of Spokane, Washington. She, too, had been inspired by creation of Mother’s Day, and spoke to the Spokane Ministerial Alliance. She suggested the date of June 5, her father’s birthday, but the date was too close to allow for adequate planning and the Alliance chose the third Sunday in June instead. Mrs. Dodd’s father, William Jackson Smart, had been a Civil War veteran, and the father of six.
The celebration was held at the Spokane YMCA. Unlike the event in West Virginia, it popularized and spread throughout the nation. In 1916, then-president Woodrow Wilson came to Spokane and spoke at the Father’s Day celebration.
The concept of Father’s Day gained public support, and was particularly supported by retailers. During the 1930’s, the Associated Men’s Wear Retailers formed the National Father’s Day Committee in New York City. Their goal was to make it official, commercialize it, and strive to influence the number of gifts sold for the holidays. The notion of commercialization was not particularly unpopular (Sonora Smart Dodd herself supported it) unlike the reception of similar mercenary ideas in relation to Mother’s Day.
Throughout the years, American Presidents have supported the idea of a Father’s Day. Not only did Woodrow Wilson speak at the festivities in Spokane, but his only family honored him at private celebrations. Calvin Coolidge recommended it be made a national holiday in 1924. In 1966, Lyndon Baines Johnson fixed the date at the third Sunday in June (for that year only) and in 1972 Richard Nixon made it a permanent federal holiday.
In case you’re wondering, the official spelling of the holiday is “Father’s Day”, not “Fathers’ Day” as might be expected, and which is more logically and grammatically correct. The spelling, “Father’s Day” had fallen into common usage, and was used on the Congressional bill, and never changed. And as far as flowers go, the official Father’s Day flower is the rose – red for living fathers, and white for those who have passed away.