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Homemade Gifts for Father’s Day

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A man in a three-piece suit stands next to a toddler in coat
E.B. Williams, between 1891 and 1894; C.M. Bell (Firm : Washington, D.C.), photographer; Prints and Photographs Division

This is a guest post by Rachel Gordon, Educational Programs Specialist in the Library’s Informal Learning Office.

Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington is credited with creating a paternal version of Mother’s Day.  She was motivated by a wish to honor her own father, a single parent to his six children after the death of his wife. That first Father’s Day was in June, 1910.  More than fifty years later, in 1966, President Johnson issued a proclamation for the observance of Father’s Day on June 19th of that year, and in 1972 President Nixon designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.

Newspapers paid plenty of attention to Father’s Day before it became a permanent national holiday; their coverage reflected the preoccupations of the times.  In 1948, two pieces in the Arizona Sun, a newspaper for the African American community, emphasized that children of all races and colors would be honoring their dads, and that fathers should also reflect on the responsibilities of their role. A Father’s Day special in 1958 provided “good ideas for every father raising youngsters in a scientific age.” These included prompts for family conversations to learn “from living things,” “while you eat” and “on trips,” and are well worth a read today.

The commercial possibilities of Father’s Day generated pages of advertisements like these from 1933 and 1952. However, The Nome Nugget (June 1956), pointed out that expensive gifts were not necessary, as handmade ones “represent the true spirit of the Father’s Day observance.” The Library’s collections  include some great images of fathers and children that can be used in homemade projects.

Type “fathers” into the search engine of the Farm Security Administration Collection and hundreds of options come up. The collection documents rural and urban American life between 1935 and 1944. These few examples, ranging from heartwarming to poignant to joyful, show the breadth of the photographs.

The “Free to Use and Reuse—Families” set also includes photographs, like a father and baby in 1919, and designs like this 1930s poster. Check out the Carol M. Highsmith Archive for more contemporary photographs, like this matching duo from the Wyoming State Fair in 2015. None of these three collections is under copyright restrictions, but if you select any others, please be sure to check the “rights restrictions” part of the item description to make sure you may use them freely.

Illustration of a family of four, father, mother, sister, brother with 'The Job of Being a Parent" listed above
The Job of Being a Parent; Federal Art Project, WPA, [between 1936 and 1939]; Prints and Photographs Division
Once you’ve selected some images, what to do with them? Here are a few ideas:

  • Make a coupon book, decorated with pictures of fathers and children. This can be as simple or elaborate as you like; instructions abound online for creating a simple one with cardstock and glue or a more polished, printable version. You can gift any tasks (car-washing, lawn mowing, for example) or treats (hugs, a picnic, a ball game?) that Dad will appreciate and that all ages can contribute to. Whatever it is, he’s bound to love it if it comes from family.
  • Make a Father’s Day card; simply print out your chosen ones and stick them onto cardstock. Receiving one of these in the mail will be a lovely surprise for grandpas, uncles, or anyone else you might want to remember on June 19th this year.
  • Make table decorations for a cookout or family dinner. The Library’s enormous cartography collections can be reconfigured into decorations. It can be a challenge to narrow down the options; to identify some appealing (and rights-free) examples, try the colorful Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, searchable by state, city or even building type. These sixteenth century Drake maps include wonderful images of ships and sea monsters. The Free to Use and Reuse Set Discovery and Exploration is an attractive selection of early maps.
    • Coasters: Once you’ve printed out some maps, here are a couple of ideas to get you started: Cut squares or circles from your map sheets; after a quick trip to your local copy store’s laminator you can turn these into coasters. A set would make a great gift, or a nice way to dress up your Father’s Day table.
    • Garlands: Cut out decorative letters from the map print outs to spell out “Happy Father’s Day” or another message (or use a free online alphabet template to make stencils, if you prefer). Create a garland by attaching the letters to ribbon or tape. Several of them draped around a holiday cookout would look very festive. Alternatively, make a sign by sticking your message to a large piece of paper, or directly onto a wall or other surface.

If you have any other ideas about how incorporate Library collections into a Father’s day celebration, please send them to us at [email protected]. We’d love to see what you come up with!



  1. I happy father day.

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