In the United States, the tradition of celebrating Father’s Day is not even a hundred years old. It all started in Spokane, Washington in 1910- two years after the first Mother’s Day observance in West Virginia. William Jackson Smart’s married daughter, Sonora Louse Smart Dodd, came up with the idea during a Mother’s Day sermon.
During the sermon, which extolled maternal sacrifices made for children, Sonora thought of the sacrifices her father made. William Jackson Smart—a civil war veteran—became a single parent after his wife died in childbirth when Senora was sixteen.
Senora felt her father made as many sacrifices as any mother. He endured the loss of his wife and kept their farm afloat while raising his six children. Sonora believed strongly that if mothers had their own special day, then fathers should too.
Inspired by Ms Anna Jarvis’s struggle to promote Mother’s Day, which was in May, Senora began a rigorous campaign to celebrate Father’s Day. She proposed celebrating on June 5th, which was her father’s birthday. The idea gained strong support from the town’s ministers and members of the Spokane YMCA, but the ministers suggested moving the date to June 19th so they would have time to prepare sermons to celebrate fathers.
Mother’s Day was endorsed in newspaper articles and many of these same papers carried the story of Spokane’s Father’s Day celebration. But Father’s Day wasn’t as quickly accepted as Mother’s Day. Members of the all-male Congress were hesitant to promote such a day, feeling the country might see such a move as self-congratulatory.
Still, Father’s Day increased in popularity and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson and his family personally observed the day. President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that any state wishing to hold their own Father’s Day observances could do so. He wrote to the nation’s governors that “the widespread observance of this occasion is calculated to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children, and also to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”
There was still debate in congress over approving such a day, but in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day in the United States. In 1972, President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance to be held on that same date and Sonora Smart Dodd was honored for her contribution at the World’s Fair in Spokane in 1974.
Mrs. Dodd died in 1978 at age 96, but most people still accredit her with the first Father’s Day celebration. However, some scholars believe the tradition of celebrating one’s father can be traced to ancient Babylon some four thousand years ago.
Records show that a young boy named Elmesu carved a Father’s Day message in clay wishing his father good health and a long life. This was the first documented account of a Father’s Day observance. And although no one knows what happened to Elmesu and his father, the tradition of celebrating Father’s Day remained in several countries around the world before the United States proclaimed the third Sunday in June as the official date of Father’s Day.
Many countries celebrate Father’s Day on the same day as the US, but other countries celebrate at different times. For example, Germany celebrates fathers on Ascension Thursday—40 days after Easter. Australia celebrates this day on the first Sunday in September, and Belgium celebrates Father’s Day twice a year, once on St. Joseph’s Day and again on the second Sunday in June.
So, what other countries besides the US will be celebrating Sunday, June 20, 2010?
The United Kingdom celebrates the third Sunday in June as do the Netherlands, Japan, France, Canada, Chile, and Argentina. And Bulgaria celebrates Father’s Day on June 20th every year.
So to all fathers around the world, Happy Father’s Day.