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Mining Tragedy And A Double-Sided Civil War Vet: The History Of Father’s Day

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The first Father’s Day celebrations in the United States were held over 100 years ago in communities on opposite coasts: one for coal miners in West Virginia in 1908, another for a Civil War veteran in Spokane, Washington in 1910. But despite interest from impassioned daughters and compassionate presidents of both parties, the holiday wasn’t officially placed on the calendar until 1972, almost 58 years after the creation of Mother’s Day.

The celebration in the small town of Monongah, West Virginia followed the worst coal mining disaster in American history. Some 360 men were killed on December 6, 1907, when two mines of the Fairmont Coal Company exploded. The disaster left 1,000 children fatherless and the town in deep mourning. The cause of the explosion was never discovered. In its aftermath, local Grace Golden Clayton urged her pastor to commemorate the miners.

A church organist whose own father had died a few years earlier, Clayton was burdened by the disaster and the loss of so many fathers. She asked her pastor to remember the men of the mine — including immigrants from Italy, Poland, Russia, Austria, and Turkey — with a special commemoration of fathers who had died providing for their families. The Father’s Day service was held at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church in Fairmont, West Virginia on July 5, 1908. The altar was decorated with sheaves of ripened wheat, a symbol of resurrection.

“It was partly the explosion that set me to think how important and loved most fathers are,” Clayton recalled to a newspaper. “All those lonely children and the heartbroken 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.”

The celebration may have been influenced by the first Mother’s Day service celebrated just two months earlier, at a church less than 20 miles away. Anna Jarvis held the first celebration recognizing mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church on May 10, 1908, in Grafton, West Virginia.

While the Andrews Methodist church became a

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