Did you know that Father's Day has only been celebrated for 77 years in the UK, while Mother's Day has ties to Pagan and Christian celebrations dating back over 2000 years?
Although, some people believe there is a link with Father’s Day and Paganism as the sun is considered the father of the universe and Father's Day is close to the summer solstice… however, I digress; it's actually an American holiday with a rather slow-burning history set across the 20th Century.
Fairmont, West Virginia - as the town sign proudly states - is home to the first recorded Father's Day celebration on the 5th of July 1908. The organiser, Grace Golden Clayton, was inspired to honour and remember fathers following the Monongah Mining Disaster. In December 1907 more than 360 men were killed, leaving behind some 1000 children without a father.
Clayton encouraged her local pastor, Reverend Robert Thomas Webb to hold the service on July 5th, as this was the closest date to her own father's birthday, whom she missed terribly.
Unfortunately the celebrations were overshadowed by an Independence Day festival, which turned out to be the largest gathering in the town's history, and is recorded to have had the first sighting of a hot air balloon. But with that and a lack of promotion outside of the town, the event never got off the ground.
One year later in 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd from Washington picked up the mantle and started to campaign for a national Father’s Day. Inspired by the yearly Mother’s Day services she felt it was only right that father’s were honoured in the same way. Dodd had been raised by her Civil War veteran father William Smart alongside her 5 siblings, having lost her mother at 16 in childbirth.
With the help of her local pastor, Reverend Dr. Conrad Bluhm, and with the backing of the YMCA and the YWCA, the first Father’s Day service was held on June 19th 1910. Dodd had hoped that the service would be on the 5th June, as this was her father’s birthday, but the church felt it was too short notice, so the 19th was chosen instead.
Even though the day had full backing from large organisations such as the YMCA and the Church, and had slowly started spreading across the country, it took years for it to become a national day. By 1913 a bill urged Congress to officially recognise Father’s Day, but in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson was unsuccessful at convincing them (although they did make Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914). They believed, like most of the country, the day was too commercialised and a bit of a joke.
By the 1930’s both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day were under attack from the general public - people wanted to have an all-inclusive Parents Day. Though this idea was quickly defeated as the local economy got a much needed boost from people buying gifts and cards for two separate events.
The years rolled by and when World War II hit, things seemed to change. Advertisers cleverly grabbed at the opportunity to use Father’s Day to promote the troops on the front line and once the war was over in 1945, Father’s Day had become a national institution in both America and the UK.
However, in America there was still the fight to have Father’s Day acknowledged as a national holiday. In 1957, Senator Margaret Chase Smith made an inspiring speech urging congress to reconsider their decision “to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable".
But, that still didn’t do the job and it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon made it an official national holiday.
Now in 2022 we don’t think twice about celebrating and spoiling our dad’s and father figures. We’re happy to get them something for those endless DIY projects or the BBQ, but maybe this year we should spend a bit more time and truly appreciate them, as it’s crazy to think that only 77 years ago we didn’t even think to celebrate them.