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The History of Father's Day

The year was 1972. NASA began research on the feasibility of a manned space shuttle and the television program “Mash” made its premiere. On May 1, a proclamation signed by President Richard M. Nixon turned the custom of celebrating Father’s Day into law. He emphasized the day should be “an occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear to our fathers, increasing and enduring through all the years.”

The proclamation came about primarily due to the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd, a Washington state woman. On Mother’s Day, 1909, Dodd attended church and heard a sermon honoring mothers. She was one of six children raised by a single father after their mother died and she felt fathers should be honored, not just mothers. After much lobbying for an official Father’s Day, Dodd got her way. In 1910, the state designated the third Sunday in June to be a celebration of fathers.

The previous year, across the country in West Virginia, another celebration of fathers had taken place. In December 1907, a mine explosion had killed more than 360 men. The local Methodist church held a service in July 1908 specifically to celebrate the lives of the deceased fathers. National support rallied around the idea of celebrating a special Father’s Day annually. The idea was supported by President Wilson in 1916 and President Coolidge in 1924, but there was resistance by some fathers and Congress. They claimed it was just an advertising ploy to sell products.

Some lobbied for a Parents’ Day to replace Mother’s Day instead of celebrating a separate Father’s Day. But, the idea of a Father’s Day took hold during WW II. By the time the war ended, even though Father’s Day was not an official holiday, the country was celebrating it as though it were.

No official action was taken until 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order designating the third Sunday in June as an official Father’s Day. With President Nixon’s proclamation in 1972, the day became an official national holiday.