Would it surprise you to know that Father’s Day was not an official holiday until 1972? That may seem much more recent than many people would expect, but the law that proclaimed Father’s Day an official holiday in the United States was only signed by Richard Nixon in that year. For many years, the date had been granted unofficial holiday status. Going to back to 1916, President Woodrow Wilson was in favor of passing the holiday, but it took another almost sixty years because there wasn’t widespread approval.
Although Father’s Day is now very much an accepted holiday, it did not always have such support. Perhaps because of the different cultural attitudes towards men and women, a day devoted to fathers was not seen as a necessity by many in the early 20th century, or even desired, for that matter. A celebration of fathers seemed pointless to some, while others thought it would be a pale imitation of the holiday for honoring mothers that had already been established.
Most historians give the credit for pushing for Father’s Day to a Washington state woman named Sonora Smart Dodd. When Sonora was sixteen, her mother died during childbirth, leaving her father, William, to raise and provide for the family of seven by himself. Sonora thought that he, and other devoted fathers like him, deserved a holiday of their own. She helped established a ceremony honoring fathers in cooperation with the YMCA in 1910.
So why did it take so long for Father’s Day to become officially recognized? At the time, almost all political decisions were made by men (the Nineteen Amendment was not established until 1920) and many men thought it was unnecessary to congratulate themselves. Also, at that time, parenting was often much more separated with wives doing much of the domestic work. Most importantly, there was not enough public demand to overcome the politics until decades later. However, Father’s Day has become a fixture now – currently the fifth-largest holiday in the U.S. for sending greeting cards.