History of Father's Day - Annual fixture Father’s Day – where did it start?

Doing things with dad on Father's Day (photo: Adobe)Doing things with dad on Father's Day (photo: Adobe)
Doing things with dad on Father's Day (photo: Adobe)

Here we take a look at the history and timeline of the celebration of dads

Father's Day is now set in stone (photo: Adobe)Father's Day is now set in stone (photo: Adobe)
Father's Day is now set in stone (photo: Adobe)

While the third Sunday in June may be ingrained in the memory of dutiful sons and daughters to buy dads gifts and to take him out for lunch, the origin story of Father’s Day is somewhat darker.

Where it all began

The history begins in West Virginian, America, in December 1907 where there was a terrible mining disaster and hundreds of men were killed.

Grace Clayton was one of those who lost her father that dark day.

She suggested to a churchman that there should be a special service to pay tribute to the 365 fathers and sons who lost their lives in the Monongah Mine Disaster.

Taking up the celebration mantle

That service was held in July 1908. And, two years later, a wider idea to celebrate all fathers took root. The commemoration, coupled with the rise in popularity of Mother’s Day, prompted Sonora Smart Dodd, the daughter of an American Civil War veteran, to take on the mantle.

She and her siblings were raised by their dad alone. She wanted to honour him on his birthday on June 5.But the third Sunday in June was chosen to allow pastors to prepare sermons.

First official Father's Day

The first official Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington. But In the 1920s and 1930s there was a campaign in America to consolidate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day into a unified Parents’ Day.

According to an academic paper at Georgia State University, authors Ralph LaRossa and Jaimie Ann Caroy tell how it was planned for the second Sunday in May.

The man behind it, Robert Spero, announced that the annual celebration of Parents’ Day would be held in Central Park, New York on the afternoon of Mother’s Day, May 10. 1931.

He predicted more than 40,000 would be present. The idea gathered presidential support initially but these days Parents’ Day has been “basically deleted from America’s collective memory”.

Doing things with dad on Father's Day (photo: Adobe)Doing things with dad on Father's Day (photo: Adobe)
Doing things with dad on Father's Day (photo: Adobe)

War gives Father's Day a boost

The authors believe World War Two may have helped to boost Father’s Day and Mother’s Day as national observances.

There were also strong commercial interests that supported both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day as separate entities.

Having Father’s Day follow Mother’s Day guaranteed a more protracted selling season.

But it wasn’t until 1966 when US president Lyndon Johnson officially recognised the observance of Father’s Day.

Having fun with dad (photo: Adobe)Having fun with dad (photo: Adobe)
Having fun with dad (photo: Adobe)

National holiday

And his successor Richard Nixon signed Father’s Day into law as a national holiday in 1972.

It’s not clear when the UK followed suit exactly but Steve Roud, in his book The English Year (2006), states it entered British popular culture “sometime after the Second World War, not without opposition”.

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