The Origin (And Grammar) Of Father’s Day

While Mother’s Day became an official holiday in 1914, Father’s Day took a little longer to be considered a national holiday. And its origin, sadly, lies in two, unrelated tragic events.

How did Father’s Day begin?

About six months after the Monongah mining disaster of 1907, in which the small West Virginia town lost over 350 men, Grace Golden Clayton organized an event to honor the fathers killed in the catastrophe—including her own.

On the other side of the country, Sondra Smart Dodd, whose mother died in childbirth, had a similar father-related thought. Inspired by a Mother’s Day sermon she attended in 1909, Dodd believed there should be a corresponding holiday to celebrate fathers. After all, she and her five siblings had been raised by her father and Civil War veteran, William Jackson Smart. Dodd successfully gained support for her idea, and the first Father’s Day was celebrated by Washington State in 1910 in June, the month of her father’s birthday.

Though President Calvin Coolidge publicly supported the holiday in 1924 and President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a proclamation naming the third Sunday in June Father’s Day, it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon officially signed Father’s Day as a permanent, national holiday into law.

Why is the apostrophe in Father’s Day singular?

People often wonder why Father’s Day has an apostrophe before the S and not after. We’re celebrating all fathers on this day … not just one, right?

The quick answer is that Mother’s Day set a precedent on this fuzzy grammatical issue of apostrophe placement. With the apostrophe before the S, Father’s Day “belongs” to each individual father.

If the apostrophe fell after the S, the meaning slightly changes. That would be a holiday “belonging” to fathers as a collective, implying we’re prioritizing honoring all fathers on the occasion over our own father.

The holiday April Fools’ Day, for example, takes the possessive plural (fools’) rather than the singular (fool’s). Perhaps this is because the individual fool doesn’t matter here in the way that each individual father matters to his children.

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