Published: 21st June 2020
Yes, Father’s Day is a corporate agenda but there’s also a sweet story behind how it came to be
The first Father’s Day was celebrated in a YMCA in Spokane, Washington in 1909 and was founded by Sonora Smart Dodd
For every five people who go gaga over a Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father's Day, there’s always that one pessimist who says the holiday is just an agenda by the corporates to sell their products. The advent of Father’s Day did become a ‘second Christmas’ for men’s gift oriented industries but the story behind how it came to be is still a pretty heartwarming one.
The idea for a Father’s Day first took birth in the mind of one Sonora Smart Dodd after attending a church sermon at the Central Methodist Episcopal Church, Spokane, Washington, in 1909. That day, the sermon was about Anna Jarvis’s Mother’s Day. Jarvis founded Mother’s Day in the United States after her mother wished for such a day to be established, so three years after her death, the first Mother’s Day was observed in 1908.
After Dodd attended the sermon at the Church and learnt about Mother’s Day, she felt a similar day must be observed for fathers too. Dodd lost her mother at a young age after which, her father, Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart single-handedly brought up six children. So Dodd wanted to have a similar holiday honouring the fathers. Dodd suggested the day be observed on June, 5 - her father’s birthday. However, the pastors of the Spokane Ministerial Alliance did not have enough time to prepare their sermons and thus the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June, which is how the day came to be.
The first Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane, Washington at the YMCA in 1910. However, it did not find much popularity and since Dodd was busy studying in the Art Institute of Chicago, she had no time to promote the celebration in the 1920s. Even the town of Spokane had forgotten, Dodd’s Father’s Day. It was only in the following decade that Dodd made it her priority to bring back the limelight on Father’s Day but this is where the pessimist among us wins five points. Dodd reached out to trade groups that would benefit from the holiday. These included manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes and any other ‘traditional’ gifts that children would give to fathers.
The New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers founded the Father’s Day Council to ‘consolidate and systematise’ the commercial promotion of Father’s Day. Ironically, the American’s of that day seemed to see through this commercial promotion and refused to accept the idea. In fact, even the newspapers of the day published columns, jokes and cynical, sarcastic pieces with regard to Father’s Day. However, the trade groups were not deterred by all the negative feedback and instead began to incorporate the same jokes in their merchandising as well.
The government was involved in the establishment of this day from 1913 itself when US President Woodrow Wilson visited Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration and also intended to make it official but the Congress wasn’t in favour of it as they feared the day would be commercialised. Again in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended that the day be observed by the entire nation but that fizzled out. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase SMith accused the Congress of ‘ignoring fathers’ for 40 years. And finally, in 1966, President Lyndon B Johanson issued a Presidential Proclamation and picked the third Sunday of June to be celebrated as Father’s Day. Six years after, the day was declared a national holiday and was signed in law by President Richard Nixon in 1976.
By the 1980’s Father’s Day became a ‘second Christmas’ for men’s wear and gifting companies.
However, Dodd is not the only one who can be credited with founding the day, there were several other attempts in the past and later to bring a day like this into our calendars. In fact, the very year that Mother’s Day was celebrated for the first time,a Father’s Day service was organised in Fairmont, West Virginia at the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South. The service was proposed by Grace Golden Clayton who like hundreds of others had lost her father the previous year after the Monongah Mining Disaster killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving behind hundreds of fatherless children. Clayton chose the Sunday nearest to her father’s birthday and suggested to the Pastor to hold a Father’s Day service. Sadly, the day didn’t really take off and was forgotten, especially because of America’s Independence Day being on July 4.
However, it wasn’t until Dodd’s proposal for a Father's Day in 1909 and her subsequent work with the trade groups that ensured that America became obsessed with the Day in the 1980’s and that the world became intrigued by it too in the following decades.
Yes, so we might not have had a Father’s Day if not for dedicated men’s wear companies and gift shop owners pushing for it to be recognised as a national holiday. But the idea might not have gone to them at all if not for a young Dodd who loved and admired her father for bringing up six children all on his own. So you can ask the pessimists around you to let this day go, after all it’s just a quick phone call, a picture on social media or a box of chocolate cupcakes or just a day to maybe, feel grateful and fortunate for a dad or the chance to be one. So thanks to Dodd, we can allot a special day for our dads!