Why Father's Day Was 58 Years in the Making

Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images / Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You may already know that Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day in 1908—and later recommended that people eschew the holiday after it became too commercial.

The first event for fathers was held the same year, though it was considerably sadder than today’s neckties-and-coffee mugs affair: A church in West Virginia honored 362 men who had died six months prior in a mining explosion. In 1910, Washington was the first state to officially recognize a day for dads when Sonora Smart Dodd, the daughter of a single father who raised six children by himself, asked Spokane pastors for a special sermon to honor fathers. She requested that the sermon be read the first week of June, but the pastors needed more time to get them written, which is how we landed on the third Sunday in June.

By 1916, even the President of the United States got involved by helping Spokane kick off Father’s Day with a special telegram. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge was vocal about supporting the idea of states adopting an official Father’s Day—but despite it all, dads didn’t get their own federally recognized holiday until 1972, 58 years after moms got theirs.

Why did it take so long? The backlash against Mother’s Day probably didn’t help, for one. And some historians think it was the attitude of dads themselves, who seemed reluctant to embrace the sentimentality of the day—not to mention shell out money for gifts for themselves, since many mothers didn’t work outside the home in the early part of the century.

In 1957, Senator Margaret Chase Smith pointed out that recognizing the efforts of one parent but not the other was sending the message that fathers weren’t as important. “To single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable,” she said. It took another nine years for Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day; it was another six years until Richard Nixon made it official in 1972.

We’re certainly making up for all that lost time: We now spend about $20 million on cards and gifts for dear ol' dad every Father’s Day. We still spend about $28 billion more on mom, but hey—we’re getting there.

A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.