The History of Father’s Day

June 5th, 2013 by Katie Erbach Leave a reply »

vintage dadWould you believe that the idea of Father’s Day was introduced by a woman? It’s true! Spurred on by the success of Mother’s Day, many people felt it was only fair to create similar holidays for other family members of influence, and Father’s Day seemed most likely to catch on. While other people in the U.S. promoted the idea of Father’s Day before it was well-established, a female named Sonora Dodd is credited for the holiday as we know it today due to her enthusiasm and persistence in making it a nationwide celebration.

Sonora Smart Dodd celebrated the first Father’s Day at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1910 in honor of her father and Civil War veteran, William Smart. Smart was a quiet man who was left a widower when his wife died in labor giving birth to their sixth child. Smart went on to raise his six children alone on their small farm in Washington. Grateful for all the hard work and care he showed to her and her siblings, Sonora wanted to pay tribute to her father and others like him with a special day. After hearing about Mother’s Day a year earlier, she recommended a similar holiday celebrating fathers to her pastor. She initially suggested June 5th, her dad’s birthday, but the church did not have adequate time to plan their sermons. Consequently, the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June.

Father’s Day did not become a success overnight. Congress introduced a bill in national recognition of the holiday in 1913, and three years later President Woodrow Wilson visited Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration. President Woodrow Wilson wanted to make the day official, but Congress resisted for fear of commercialization. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe the day nationally, but he did not follow through with a national proclamation. In the 1920s, Dodd stopped pushing for the holiday because she was busy with other priorities while studying at the Art Institute of Chicago. The holiday faded into the background for several years, even in Spokane.

In the 1930s, Dodd returned to her childhood town and continued her past efforts to promote the celebration. It was during this time she was able to raise awareness nationally, with the support of trade groups that had a vested interest in the holiday. Tie makers, tobacco pipe manufacturers, and other trades that made traditional presents for men all helped to spread the word. However, Americans were wary of the holiday as a manipulative attempt by merchants to sell more products and replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day. Cynical comments and sarcastic jokes about the holiday commonly appeared in newspapers. Yet, trade groups remained persistent. Dodd also had the support of the Father’s Day Council after 1938, which was founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers to consolidate and organize the commercial aspects of promotion.

Supporters continued to promote Father’s Day with diligence, and eventually the holiday became a success. When World War II began, advertisers used Father’s Day as a way to support and honor American men fighting in the war. By the time the war ended, Father’s Day was a national institution even though it had not been declared a federal holiday. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith drafted up a proposal that accused Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while prizing mothers, therefore “singling out just one of our two parents.” Finally, in 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day each year with the first presidential proclamation. It wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon officially signed the holiday into U.S. law permanently.

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for Father’s Day on Sunday, June 16th, and show your father how much you value his role in your life with something thoughtful! For popular Father’s Day gift ideas he’ll love, browse our special occasion gift card recommendations.

About Katie Erbach

Katie is GiftZip's newest team member. She currently lives in Chicago with her fiance, Jim. Katie's passions include blogging, hiking, reading (but nothing sad), listening to music, and baking anything with chocolate in it!


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