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The Father of Father’s Day: American Celebration of Fatherhood During WWI 

By Joseph Vesper
Staff Writer

pershing4b 1General John J. Pershing and his family before WWI. Have you ever wondered about the history of Father’s Day? Unfortunately, there was no federally recognized Father’s Day in America during the time of World War I. It was not until 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation that the third Sunday in June was to be designated as the official holiday.

However, various communities in 1917-1918 did celebrate a day dedicated to fathers, nonetheless.

The exact day varied by community. Some celebrated the holiday in May others in June, still others as late as October. Newspapers in these communities heavily encouraged Father’s Day participation and gave suggestions for honoring fathers including; letting dad sleep in until 10 am, letting him read the entire sports section of the newspaper without interruption, showering him with gifts of scotch and cigars, and taking him to a baseball game.

Even President Woodrow Wilson and Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the American Expeditionary Force, helped to promote a day where fathers could be celebrated across the vast Atlantic Ocean, that separated families during the war.

President Woodrow Wilson verbally designated Nov. 24, 1918 as Father’s Day and in conjunction with Stars and Stripes a national letter-writing campaign was orchestrated where fathers and their children could reach out to each other. Though the war ended earlier that month, the letters were safely delivered. Some of these letters were even published in local newspapers.

Private Murville Boylan, of Plainfield Missouri, part of Company H, 311th Infantry wrote to his father:

...“Well as today had been set aside as “Father’s Day,” I for one feel very proud to think I have a dad to write to. There are a good many other boys writing to their fathers, also. Of course, there are some who came over here to do their bit for the U.S.A., who have been unfortunate and will never write to any one, so that is why I thank the Lord for sparing my life through this great battle of victory.”
“Some day we can spend many pleasant evenings together at home and I can tell you many funny experiences of my trip and time spent in this country and I can just see how interested you will be.”

Later that very same year service members returned home to their fathers and fathers would return home to their families. We should continue the tradition and appreciate our fathers and remember those forefathers that came before us.

Joseph Vesper is a Summer 2018 Intern with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.

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