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When did Father's Day start?

Happy Father's Day! I will admit it's more difficult for me to find gifts for my dad than it is for me to find something my mom would like. I usually default to coupons for foot rubs for my dad (he's never complained)... oh and chocolate, but that's a given for both my parents. Since I did a Daily Doodle about the history of Mother's Day, I knew I wanted to follow with a Father's Day post.

There is mention of a Southern European tradition dating back to 1508 which celebrates fathers. As for America, if wasn't until two years after Mother's Day was officially set in motion that dad's began to be recognized annually.

In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, was inspired by Anna Jarvis (the woman who finally got Mother's Day to be a recognized holiday in the U.S.) and the idea of Mother’s Day. Dodd's father was a single parent who raised Sonora and her five brothers by himself, after his wife Ellen, died giving birth to their youngest child in 1898. William Jackson Smart, her father, was a farmer and Civil War veteran.  While attending a Mother’s Day church service in 1909, Sonora, then 27, came up with the idea for Father's Day.

Within a few months, Sonora had convinced the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA to set aside a Sunday in June to celebrate fathers. She proposed June 5, her father’s birthday, but the ministers chose the third Sunday in June so that they would have more time after Mother’s Day (the second Sunday in May) to prepare their sermons. So, the first annual Father's Day service in the U.S. was held on June 19, 1910, when Sonora delivered presents to handicapped fathers, boys from the YMCA decorated their lapels with fresh-cut roses (red for living fathers, white for the deceased), and the city’s ministers devoted their homilies to fatherhood.

It should be noted a Father's Day Service was held previously, but not as an annual event. The first known Father’s Day service in the U.S. occurred in Fairmont, West Virginia, on July 5, 1908, after hundreds of men died in the worst mining accident in U.S. history. Grace Golden Clayton, the daughter of a dedicated reverend, proposed a service to honor all fathers, especially those who had died. The event was a local one, and wasn't intended to extend into following years.

The widely publicized events in Spokane struck a chord that reached all the way to Washington, D.C., and Sonora’s celebration started its slow path to becoming a national holiday. The holiday did not catch on right away, perhaps due to the parallels with Mother’s Day. Though that doesn't mean it wasn't widely observed.

President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother's Day a holiday, and two years later in 1916, he and his family personally observed Father's Day. Eight years later, President Calvin Coolidge signed a resolution in favor of Father’s Day “to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order that the holiday be celebrated on the third Sunday in June. Finally, under President Richard Nixon, in 1972, Congress passed an act officially making Father’s Day a national holiday... Sonora was 90 at the time and alive to see her efforts had paid off.

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