As with Mother’s Day, there are celebrations of fathers found throughout history. In fact, an ancient “Father’s Day” message was found carved into a card made of clay in the ruins of Babylon. Some historians say that the first Father’s Day in America was held in West Virginia in 1908, when a Methodist church held services celebrating fathers after a mine explosion killed 361 of the community’s men. However, the creation of Father’s Day is generally attributed to a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, from Spokane, Washington, who sought to make Father’s Day an annual holiday.
In May of 1909, while attending a church service dedicated to Mother’s Day, 27-year old Sonora decided that she wanted to find a way to honor her father, William Jackson Smart, who raised her and her five brothers after Sonora’s mother died while giving birth. She wanted to create a Father’s Day, which would mirror Mother’s Day, and celebrate the holiday in June, her father’s birthday month.
In an attempt to gather support for the holiday, Sonora approached the local YMCA, shopkeepers, government officials, and the Spokane Ministerial Alliance. Her petition was approved, and so in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1910, the very first Father’s Day was celebrated. At that first Father’s Day, girls presented their fathers with red roses; large baskets of roses were passed around the church for attendees to pin on their lapels in honor of their fathers—red for the living and white in memory of the deceased. Dodd and her son brought roses and gifts to homebound fathers in the city.
While the holiday did not gain as much immediate support as Mother’s Day, its observance slowly spread. In 1916, President Wilson honored Father’ Day by using telegraph signals to unfurl a flag in Spokane as he pressed a button from Washington, D.C. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge encouraged states to recognize the holiday as a way to strengthen bonds between fathers and children—and to impress upon fathers the importance of their obligations. Later on, advertisers used World War II to argue that Father’s Day was a way to celebrate and honor American troops and by the time the war was over, Father’s Day was a national tradition. In 1972, President Nixon signed the law that established Father’s Day as a national holiday. Sonora lived to see the holiday rightfully recognized, dying in 1978 at the age of 96.
Many countries celebrate Father’s Day in a similar way, just on different days. Brazil celebrates Father’s Day in honor of Saint Joachim, the father of Mary. In Thailand, dads are given Canna flowers to represent masculinity, and in Germany…a lot of beer.
Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day has become highly commercialized. Hallmark ranks Father’s Day as their fourth most profitable holiday, below Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day. But, just as with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day was created by a child, out of deep love for a parent. Whether or not you choose to give gifts, take a moment and thank a father or father figure in your life.
The roses shown in the top image—in honor of the first roses given on Father’s Day—are part of our Beaded Kristina’s Rose treatment. Learn more about it here.