While Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Wash., is given credit for Father’s Day, history shows that the first Father’s Day celebration occurred in Fairmont, W.Va., on July 5, 1908.
The seeds of a Father’s Day Service were planted on Dec. 6, 1907, when a horrible mine explosion at Monongah, near Fairmont, killed more than 360 men, 210 of whom were fathers, leaving 250 widows and more than 1,000 children grieving.
Thoughts of these lonely people touched local resident Grace Clayton deeply. “It was partly the explosion that got me to thinking how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and those heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes.”
She suggested to her pastor, at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South, that it would be wonderful if fathers were given a special day to be honored and remembered. Mrs. Clayton suggested the Sunday closest to her father’s birthday, which would be July 5, 1908. Her father had been a Methodist minister.
Mother’s Day may have had a small influence, which had originated some 20 miles away in Grafton. The event was set for July 5, 1908.
Unfortunately due to other events within the Fairmont community, no one felt the desire to follow through to convince the city or the State of West Virginia to issue a proclamation establishing an annual Father’s Day.
In the next several years, a number of people in different states made an effort to found a Father’s Day with a national observance. Finally such a bill was signed into law in 1972 by President Nixon.
But one church member who attended, remembered, “I recall the occasion very distinctly as the pulpit was decorated by having ripened sheaves of wheat placed about it. Many favorable comments by the individuals and the press were made concerning the service at that time.”
The church is now called Central United Methodist Church and Father’s Day is celebrated there each year. Highway signs were erected at city entrances proclaiming ‘Welcome to Fairmont – the Friendly City – Home of the First Father’s Day Service, July 5, 1908.”
A plaque was placed on an outside church wall in 1984, and in 1985 a historical marker was erected in front of the church by the West Virginia Department of Archives and History.