Teaching with Stamps: Primary resources for teaching America’s history and heritage.
Ah, dads. They’ve taught us so much, from how to ride a bike to how to catch a ball. As one of the most central figures in our lives, our fathers shape who we are from the inside out. Father’s Day celebrates more than just the man who brought you into this world, though. It celebrates all the grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and men who helped us learn right from wrong, taught us the meaning of being good, and showered us with unconditional love and support. How did this holiday come to be though?
As you probably assume, Father’s Day was born in answer to another parental commemoration – Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day was conceived originally in an attempt to bring peace to a war-torn nation in the 1860s, recognizing the bond among mothers with boys on the battlefield. Anna Jarvis, daughter to Mother’s Day activist Ann Reeves Jarvis, pushed for the nation to adopt a national holiday, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson passed a resolution that recognized the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
The campaign for Father’s Day gained momentum more slowly however, mostly due to florists and shop owners believing that mothers had more of a “sentimental appeal” than fathers. But towns across the nation still honored fathers in their own way, from sermons to veteran parades to ceremonies. In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd – one of six children raised by a widower – embarked on a fierce campaign to recognize a Father’s Day, speaking at churches, YMCA, and local governments. In 1910, Washington State was the first in the nation to recognize a statewide Father’s Day.
The holiday spread amidst reluctance, often because men believed it mocked their masculinity. But in 1916 via telegraph, President Wilson unfurled flags in Spokane to show his support. Eight years later, President Calvin Coolidge encouraged state governments to observe their own Father’s Day. Throughout the next decades, there was an attempt to convert Mother’s Day to “Parent’s Day,” scrapping the idea of separate holidays for each parent. But during the Great Depression, the separate holidays meant a boost in gift sales, and the two holidays stood individually. During World War II, Father’s Day took on an even deeper meaning, as it provided Americans an opportunity to celebrate the men who were most likely fighting for both nation and family. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a resolution making Father’s Day – the third Sunday in June – a national holiday.
Today, Father’s Day means more than gift giving. It means spending time with men who bring out the best in us, and it gives us just a simple opportunity to say “thanks, Dad.”
Father’s Day is a chance to honor not only dads, but grandfathers, uncles, and any of the men who shaped us into the people we are today. Who are you celebrating on Father’s Day?