A sad moment in West Virginia and coal mining history gave us the first father’s day observation.
The death of more than 360 men in the Monongah Mine disaster was the basis for the original Father’s Day observation held in Fairmont.
The devastated families touched Grace Golden Clayton, a local woman who was especially concerned about the more than 1,000 children who lost a father in the Dec. 6, 1907 mine explosion.
“It was partly the explosion that set me to think how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and the heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such a sad time,” Clayton said in a local newspaper article.
Clayton, who was still grieving the death of her own father, suggested to her minister that the Sunday closest to his birthday become a day to honor all fathers – living or dead.
At that time in 1908, the closest date was Sunday, July 5, and that’s when the first recorded Father’s Day service was held at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South. It’s now Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont.
Father’s Day is celebrated there each June, and a marker was placed outside the church by the West Virginia Department of Archives in recognition of the nation’s first service.
This birthplace of Father’s Day is just about 20 miles from Grafton, where the original Mother’s Day holiday – which was suggested and promoted by Anna Jarvis.
But Fairmont’s service was only the beginning of many other efforts to establish the holiday and make it a national celebration.
In 1910, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, held a Father’s Day celebration and it spread to other churches throughout the city. Area pastors began using the third Sunday of June to preach about the importance of fathers and fatherhood.
Eventually, national political leaders joined the effort to formalize the holiday.
Congress passed a joint resolution in 1965 recognizing Father’s Day. But things move slowly in Washington, and another decade passed before then President Lyndon Johnson officially proclaimed the third Sunday in June as a national holiday. Six years later, President Richard Nixon made it a permanent holiday by signing a congressional resolution in 1972.
The Monongah Mine Disaster remains one of–if not the worst–mining disaster of all time.