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Honor Your Father . . . At Least Once a Year

Every June, we honor fathers. The first Mother's Day was celebrated in 1914, but a holiday honoring fathers did not become official until 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson declared that the third Sunday in June would be Father's Day. President Richard Nixon made this proclamation permanent in 1972. But this doesn't mean that the holiday was not celebrated before this time.

Albert M. Bender, artist, poster for a father and son banquet, Federal Art Project, WPA, 1939 Sioux father and child, photo by Graves Studio (Chadron), between 1890 and 1920

The idea for Father's Day is attributed to Sonora Dodd, who was raised by her father after her mother's death during childbirth. While listening to a sermon at church on Mother's Day, she thought about all her father had done for her and her siblings and decided fathers should have a day, too. Because Dodd's father was born in June, she encouraged churches in her area, Spokane, Wash., to honor fathers that month. The first Father's Day was celebrated in Spokane in 1910.

Over the years, the idea spread, and people lobbied Congress to establish the holiday. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, who had signed a proclamation establishing Mother's Day, approved the idea, but never signed a proclamation for it. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge made it a national event to "establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations."

Look in the American Memory Web site and you'll find hundreds of items relating to dads — posters, photographs, sheet music, even a letter from Teddy Roosevelt to his son.

In 1939, the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago hosted the Father & Son Banquet. This colorful poster (above) is from the American Memory collection "By the People, for the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943." This collection consists of 908 boldly colored and graphically diverse original posters produced from 1936 to 1943 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Of the 2,000 WPA posters known to exist, the Library of Congress' collection is the largest. These striking silkscreen, lithograph and woodcut posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs; cultural programs including art exhibitions and theatrical and musical performances; travel and tourism; educational programs; and community activities in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

In "Oh! Write Me a Song of My Father" the composer asks why "You ever write songs about Mother/Not a word of dear Father you say." In "America Singing: Nineteenth Century Song Sheets" you can find thousands of such song sheets. For most of the 19th century, before the advent of phonograph and radio technologies, Americans learned the latest songs from printed song sheets. Not to be confused with sheet music, song sheets are single printed sheets with lyrics but no music. These were new songs being sung in music halls or new lyrics to familiar songs, like "Yankee Doodle" or "The Last Rose of Summer." Some of America's most beloved tunes were printed as song sheets, including "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Another, softer side of Theodore Roosevelt is revealed in a letter he wrote to his son in 1890. His words are in sharp contrast to his Rough Rider image. He addresses his son in child-like language and promises to take him to play in the barn and on the beach. He entertains his young son, Theodore Jr., with an illustrated fable about a bear chasing a pony and a cow, which have strayed too far from the barn. The animals race safely home and "make up their minds they will never run away again." The letter is from the Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years collection of approximately 90 representative documents spanning the 15th century to the mid-20th century. Included are the papers of presidents, Cabinet ministers, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, military officers and diplomats, reformers and political activists, artists and writers, scientists and inventors, and other prominent Americans whose lives reflect our country's evolution.

A. Albert M. Bender, artist, poster for a father and son banquet, Federal Art Project, WPA, 1939. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Call No.: POS - WPA - ILL .B46, no. 4; Reproduction No. LC-USZC2-894 DLC (color film copy slide).

B. Sioux father and child, photo by Graves Studio (Chadron), between 1890 and 1920. Reproduction No.: X-33537. Repository: Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library. This item is not in the Library of Congress. For additional information about reproductions, contact the Denver Public Library.