The History of Father’s Day

Maybe you are planning to buy your dad a tie for Father’s Day or send him a card. If you live with or near your dad, your family might have a tradition of going to a certain restaurant or cooking his favorite food on that day. In the early 1900s, however, Father’s Day had not yet been recognized as a holiday. It took even more time for people (including fathers) to welcome the idea of celebrating a man’s relationship with his children.

The first Father’s Day service was held on July 5, 1908 at a church in Fairmont, West Virginia; however, Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington became the biggest campaigner for a day to honor fathers. Her own father raised six children as a single parent. As she listened to a Mother’s Day church service, she thought fathers deserved their own special day. In 1910 Dodd promoted her idea through local churches and the YMCA. She also enlisted the aid of retailers, who were thrilled with the idea that customers might buy men’s clothing and other products for the occasion.

What Dodd didn’t anticipate was the negative reaction that fathers would have to the idea of Father’s Day. Many men worried that Dodd’s emphasis on the kind, nurturing qualities of fathers would make them seem less masculine and tough. Even greeting card companies complained, “mannish-looking cards are hard to design.” Two U.S. presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge, supported the day and Congress tried twice to get Father’s Day resolutions passed. Still the public did not show much interest, suspecting that retailers just wanted another holiday similar to Mother’s Day so that they could make money.

Father’s Day became more successful after World War II, when stores like Bloomingdale’s in New York used the slogan “Every Dad’s a Hero.” After the stress of war, more men liked the idea of returning to their families. They had already proved their toughness by surviving the war. The day also got a boost from the idea of Father’s Day as a time when dad could do whatever he wanted. As one Father’s Day card from the 1920s stated, “May you sleep as long as you want in the morning. May you have the newspaper when you want it and as long as you want it…here’s hoping no one asks you to drive the car or go to church.”

A combination of better marketing and a focus on indulging dads made Father’s Day increasingly popular. In 1972 President Nixon signed a final Congressional resolution that made Father’s Day the third Sunday in June.

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