Father’s Day is a relatively modern holiday, so different families have different traditions. These can range from a simple phone call or greeting card, to large parties that honor all of the “father figures” in a particular extended family.
The first observance of a day honoring fathers was held on July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South. Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father and suggested that her pastor Robert Thomas Webb honor all of the fathers killed in the Monongah Mining Disaster. This disaster occurred in December of 1907, and killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand fatherless children.
Clayton’s event was never promoted outside the town itself, and no proclamation of it was made by the city council.
On June 19, 1910, a Father’s Day celebration was held at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington, by Sonora Smart Dodd. Her father, the civil war veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised his six children there. She was also a member of Old Centenary Presbyterian Church (now Knox Presbyterian Church), where she first proposed the idea. After hearing a sermon about Jarvis’ Mother’s Day in 1909 h, she told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday to honor them. Although she initially suggested June 5, her father’s birthday, the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday in June. Several local clergymen accepted the idea, and on June 19, 1910, the first Father’s Day, “sermons honoring fathers were presented throughout the city”.
In the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, and it faded into relative obscurity. In the 1930s, Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level. She gained the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday. By 1938, she had the help of the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers to consolidate and systematize the holiday’s commercial promotion.
Americans resisted the holiday for its first few decades, viewing it as nothing more than an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes.
A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak at a Father’s Day celebration and he wanted to make it an officially recognized federal holiday, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized.
In 1957, Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a Father’s Day proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus “[singling] out just one of our two parents”. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.