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Father's Day, A short history


The campaign to celebrate the nation’s fathers did not meet with the same enthusiasm as the Day to celebrate mother’s. If you’ll remember the Mother’s Day we celebrate today has it origins in the peace-and-reconciliation campaigns of the post-Civil War era. In the 1860’s at the urging of Ann Reeves Jarvis a divided West Virginia town celebrated “Mother’s Work Days” that brought together the mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers.


Nearly 50 years later, on July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday.


The next year in Spokane, Washington, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on June 19, 1910.


During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parents’ Day. They felt the days had become “too commercial” and that "both parents should be loved and respected together.” Every year on Mother’s Day, pro-Parents’ Day groups rallied in New York City’s Central Park.


The Great Depression derailed this effort to combine and de-commercialize the holidays. Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men, promoting sales of traditional men's gifts.


When World War II began, advertisers began to suggest that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort. By the end of the war, Father’s Day may not have been a federal holiday, but it was a national institution.


In 1972 Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday at last. Today, the day honoring fathers is celebrated in the United States on the third Sunday of June.


In other countries–especially in Europe and Latin America–fathers are honored on St. Joseph’s Day, a traditional Catholic holiday that falls on March 19.


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