Many Historians believe Grace Clayton was the founder of the first Fathers Day in Fairmont, West Virginia ON July 5th 1908. A year and a half before, Monongah, a nearby town- suffered a mine explosion killing more than 360 men. Over 200 of these men were fathers and left behind their widows and over 1000 sons and daughters.
It is said that Clayton was deeply moved by the incident and went to her Pastor, Robert Thomas Webb- and initiated the idea of a special day for fathers to be honoured and remembered. Both Clayton and Webb had lost children previously, so they felt the grief the grief of the mining families.
According to the Fairmont Times, in 1979, Clayton had, at the time of the mining tragedy said: “It was partly the explosion that got me thinking how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and those heart broken wives and mothers- oh how sad to have no father, no husband to turn to in such an awful time”.
Clayton chose July 5th, 1908 to celebrate Fathers Day, as this was the nearest date to her late fathers birthday. However, Claytons fathers Day did not take off for a number of reasons; the day was not promoted outside of the small town, no public statement was made and most significantly, Fairmont held a huge July 4th Independence Day festival with over 12000 people in attendance the day before. because of these unfortunate incidents, Clayton never received the credit she deserved.
To this day Fairmont are proud of Clayton’s efforts displaying a highway sign at the city’s entrance stating: “Welcome to Fairmont – the Friendly City – Home of the First Father’s Day Service, July 5, 1908”.
ONE WOMANS MISSION
For many historians, however, the origins of Fathers Day are attributed to another American. Two years after Clayton’s commentary on forgotten fathers, in 1910, a Washington woman named Sonora Smart Dodd publicly recognised the need for a Father’s Day. To this day Dodd is known and recognised to be the first, and only, founder of Father’s Day.
Having heard a Mother’s Day sermon in church the previous year Dodd felt that fatherhood deserved recognition too. Having lost her mother at the age of 16 years old, Dodd was brought up, along with her five siblings, by her father William Smart, a Civil War veteran. Dodd was very passionate about the need for a Father’s day and argued:
The father’s place in the home. The training of children. The safeguarding of the marriage tie. The protection of womanhood and childhood. The meaning of this, whether in the light of religion or of patriotism is so apparent as to need no argument in behalf of such a day.”
After taking the idea to her Pastor and receiving full support, the first Fathers Day was publicly celebrated in 1910.
However, despite Dodd’s efforts it took years to make the day an official holiday. Mother’s Day was met with true fervor; it was recognised in Christianity as an old religious tradition and was seen as a wonderful special day to pay thanks to mothers. Father’s Day on the other hand, was seen by many, as a bit of a joke and the further it spread the more laughs it gained. Mocked by newspapers, people saw it as another excuse to fill the calendar with promotions and ‘commercial’ days.
Fast forward to 1972, President Richard Nixon made Father’s Day an official legal national holiday proclaiming that the third Sunday in June was “an occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear to our fathers.”
DID YOU KNOW?
In 1910 a tradition was set, all sons and daughters would wear a rose to church; they would wear a red rose in admiration of a living father and a white rose to pay tribute to a deceased father. This is rarely upheld today, however, and many people will not have heard of this original gesture.