Celebrating Father’s Day with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress

In a previous blog post we discussed the history of Mother’s Day, but several of us on the blog team wondered about the origins of Father’s Day. We were surprised to find out that Father’s Day was not officially celebrated nationally until 1966 when Public Law 89-450 was enacted. This law only covered 1966. It was not until 1972 with the enactment of Public Law 92-278 that the third Sunday in June of every year was designated as Father’s Day.

Detroit, Michigan. Father and Son. Arthur S. Siegel, 1942

Though Father’s Day did not officially become a holiday until 1972, many states celebrated Father’s Day long before. In my research I found at least two origin stories for Father’s Day. One was based on the work of Sonora Dodd. Motivated by a sermon about the creation of Mother’s Day and looking for a way to honor her father, who raised her and her five siblings alone after the death of her mother, Dodd worked to establish a celebration of fathers. A second origin story came out of West Virginia. Mourning the loss of her father and 361 others after the Monongah Mine Disaster, Grace Golden Clayton suggested to her minister that one day be set aside to honor fathers, especially those fathers lost in the disaster.

Many states celebrated Father’s Day and both Presidents Wilson and Coolidge worked to make it a national holiday. However, many in Congress were concerned that it would become commercialized. As a result, even though many wanted a national holiday, many years passed before it became law.

African American family posed for portrait seated on lawn.

Read the article discussing Sonora Dodd’s work to establish Father’s Day. Do you agree with the reasons provided? Write a letter to the editor speaking in favor or against the creation of Father’s Day. Compare that article to What? A Father’s Day? We Had To Do It from the Albuquerque Morning Journal. Do you think the writer is in favor or against the creation of Father’s Day?

The article from the Albuquerque Morning Journal suggests using the sunflower as a symbol to identify fathers. How do you react to that as an appropriate symbol for fathers celebrating Father’s Day? What symbol would you use?

Another article mentions how soldiers fighting in World War I sent letters to their fathers for Father’s Day. Read some of the letters printed with the article. What would you write in a letter to your father if you were away on Father’s Day?

Want more information on Father’s Day? The Library’s In Custodia Legis blog provides a legislative history of Father’s Day.

How will you celebrate Father’s Day?

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