by CAROLE CHRISTMAN KOCH
Each year, a special day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June—Father’s Day.
My father, Herb Christman, worked hard as a farmer raising 10 children. Yet, I can’t recall honoring him on his special day as I did my mother on her special day. Surely, I’d have made a homemade card in Sunday School and given it to him. As an adult, I did honor him, and it was well-deserved.
I’ve written quite a few stories about my own mother, as well as the history of Mother’s Day, but I never knew the history of Father’s Day. It was time to find out.
Although Father’s Day is celebrated in numerous countries, some scholars’ opinion is the first recording of honoring a father comes from the Old Babylonian period, 4,000 years ago. A young lad, named Elmesu, carved a message of good health and a long and happy life to his beloved father.
Jumping ahead to the U.S., there have been numerous claims of being the first to celebrate Father’s Day. The first Father’s Day church service was July 5, 1908 at what is now the Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont, W.Va. It was there, Grace Clayton convinced her pastor to pay tribute to the 361 men killed, 250 being fathers, leaving 1,000 fatherless children, in the Monongah Mining Disaster in West Virginia. Clayton also wanted to honor her father, who died years earlier.
With other events going on at the same time in Fairmont, the celebration wasn’t really promoted until 1985, when a historical marker was erected for holding the first Father’s Day observance in West Virginia.
But scholars seem to agree it was Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Wash., who was the most persuasive in promoting a Father’s Day celebration in America. It all started after Sonora heard a sermon in 1909 about Anna Jarvis, who established Mother’s Day. Inspired, Sonora approached her pastor about honoring all fathers on a special day. Her own father was a Civil War Veteran and, as a widower, raised his six children. Thus, Father’s Day was celebrated on the third Sunday of June 1910 at churches throughout the city.
The first Father’s Day church service was held on July 5, 1908, at what is now the Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont, West Virginia.
In 1911, Jane Adams of the Hull House social settlement proposed a city-wide Father’s Day in Chicago, but it wasn’t accepted.
Still another claim to Father’s Day was Harry Meek, the president of Chicago’s Lions’ Club. He organized a ceremony to honor the fathers of his organization the third Sunday of June 1915, which happened to be his birthday. Meek tried to make it an official holiday and the Lions’ Club named him the “Originator of Father’s Day.”
Heading into the 1920s, Sonora Dodd stopped promoting Father’s Day while she was attending an art school in Chicago. After Sonora returned to Spokane in the 1930s, she started promoting Father’s Day at a national level.
This time Sonora had help from trade businesses and a Father’s Day Council, founded by New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers.
At first, it was resented by the general public as another advertising stunt by merchants, but eventually, the organizations and states all wanted an annual Father’s Day. As such, a bill was introduced in Congress in 1913, but it took years for it to became a national holiday.
President Wilson was the first president to observe Father’s Day, when he spoke at a Father’s Day celebration in Spokane; in 1924, President Coolidge recommended the day to be observed by our country. But it wasn’t until 1966 that President Johnson signed a presidential proclamation proclaiming the third Sunday of June was Father’s Day. It took six more years before President Nixon signed the day into law in 1972.
In 1974, Sonora Dodd was honored for her contribution of establishing a Father’s Day at Spokane’s World Fair and, in my opinion, Clayton, Dodd, Adams, Pastor Berringer and Harry Meek, all contributed in some way in establishing the tradition of honoring all fathers.
CAROLE CHRISTMAN KOCH is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania.