15 Jun The Origins of Father’s Day

The Origins of Father’s Day

Father’s Day is fast approaching. In the UK and in the USA, the celebration is always held on the third Sunday in June. This year, it falls on Sunday, June 20th, so if you haven’t already bought or made a card or gift, it’s time to get cracking.

Stateside celebrations

The celebration of both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day originated in America. Mums were the first to be honoured, back in 1908. Anna Jarvis, a social activist, lobbied the government to create an official day dedicated to celebrating the important role of mothers, following the death of her own mother in 1905. She held her own Mother’s Day memorial on May 10th 1908, and by 1911 people across the whole of the USA had followed her lead. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official part of the American calendar.

From humble beginnings

The first person to consider honouring fathers was also an American. Grace Golden Clayton, from Fairmont, West Virginia, was inspired by local-woman Jarvis. A little later in 1908, on July 5th Clayton encouraged her pastor to hold a service celebrating fathers. The Monongah Mining Disaster had taken place the year before. The disaster caused the death of 360 men and 210 families were tragically left fatherless. Grace Golden Clayton felt that Father’s Day would offer the bereaved children a special time to remember and commemorate their lost fathers. The event was limited to Fairmont and remained low-profile, overshadowed by the celebration of Independence Day the day before, on July 4th.

Great minds think alike

From 1908, Mother’s Day rapidly gained traction and more and more people became aware of and shared in the day of celebration. In Washington, Sonora Smart Dodd, listened to a sermon about Jarvis and her mission to make Mother’s Day a national event. She was one of six children who had been raised by their father William Jackson Smart, a single dad who had been widowed when his wife died during childbirth. Sonora was understandably inspired by her father, and started a campaign for an official day when all fathers could be honoured.

Spokane, the States, then the world

Dodd’s first ‘Father’s Day’ was held in the YMCA in Spokane, Washington in 1910. This time, enthusiasm for the idea grew and spread across America. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge encouraged state governments to make the celebration official, however, it wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation making the third Sunday in June Father’s Day. He may have just responded to pressure across the country and in government arguing that all parents should be celebrated equally. In 1957, Senator Margaret Chase Smith stated: “Either we honour both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honouring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable.”1

In 1972, President Richard Nixon established the day as a national holiday in the USA. Father’s Day is now recognised across the globe, although the festival varies between countries and cultures.


In Germany, Vatertag (Father’s Day) is often a good excuse for groups of men to eat, drink and make merry. In Spain, the tradition of paying tribute to one’s father has evolved from the celebration of Saint Joseph on March 19 and in France, a company that made cigarette lighters saw the day as a marketing opportunity and promoted it as a day for giving French dads smoking accessories!


In the UK, Father’s Day is generally celebrated to recognise the contribution that fathers and father figures make to the lives of their children. Fathers may enjoy a smudgy homemade card, tea and toast in bed or a dismissive comment about it being an artificially constructed commercial event. Father’s Day may be commercial now, but its origins are authentic and heart-felt. So, this year dump the cynicism and take the time to honour your dad.

1 http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1985

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