History of Father's Day in Australia

On July 5th, 1908, a West Virginia church held an event and a special Sunday sermon to commemorate and honour the lives of the 361 men who died in explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company the previous December. This is widely believed to be the first unofficial Father's Day as we know it today.

In the years since 1908, Father's Day has become a holiday that honours Fathers and father figures. It's a celebration of fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence Fathers have on society.

How did we get from A to B? Read on. In this article, we'll cover the history of Father's Day in America and Australia.

Father's Day's early origins

A day to honour Fathers has traditionally been celebrated on March 19th in Catholic countries of Europe since the Middle Ages.The Feast Day of Saint Joseph is a solemnity to honour Joseph as the Father of baby Jesus and his example of ideal fatherhood. The Catholic Church supported celebrations of fatherhood during a customary day as early as the 14th century. These traditions were brought to America by Spanish and Portuguese immigrants.

The modern Father's Day as we know it began in the USA in 1908. A tragic coal mining accident in West Virginia the year before had killed 361 men. A memorial service was held to remember them as Fathers and husbands and acknowledge the 1,000 children who were left fatherless. That same year, the newly established Mother's Day was gaining popularity, and others thought Fathers deserved the same acknowledgement. Sonora Smart Dodd began campaigning for the creation of a day to equally honour men.

Sonora Smart Dodd was one of six children who were raised by their single Father and Civil War veteran – William Jackson Smart – after her mother died in childbirth. Having been lovingly raised by her Father, she wanted men to be equally acknowledged for their parental love and affection.

Sonora Smart Dodd's first Father's Day event was held on June 19th, 1910, at the YMCA in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. Father's Day was surprisingly slow to take off, and it was not popularly observed for many years. It wasn't until 1966 that President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day and issued the first presidential proclamation honouring Fathers.

Father's Day in Australia

These days, Father's Day in Australia is celebrated on the first Sunday of September, although this hasn't always been the case. A collection of articles from Australian newspapers throughout the 1900s shows that official recognition of the day was slow to come, and most Australians didn't even know it was an event for several decades. Men, in particular, seemed reluctant to celebrate Father's Day until the 1960s.

The earliest celebrations of Father's Day in Australia were held in June alongside the newly established American holiday. In the USA, Fathers were honoured at church services. In Australia, however, Father's Day appears to have been greeted with mixed opinions. This collection of newspaper articles shows just how much Father's Day has changed over the years.

Many of the early newspaper editorials suggest the day was seen as somewhat frivolous and unnecessary. A Sydney newspaper dated Sunday, May 21st 1911, was less than flattering about the role of Fathers:


'Mother's Day' was voted a success last Sunday, and the question now arises what about a day for father? The white carnation was chosen as the emblem for mother—white for purity, form for beauty fragrance for love, and growth for charity.

A cynical lady correspondent suggests we should have the choice of three flowers emblematic of father—the scarlet geranium, because it resembles the bloom of his nose; the cornflower, to match the hue of his language when his liver is bad; or the mignonette, in sweet remembrance of his Saturday night breath.

She adds that September should be the month in which to hail him king, for, under the Southern Cross, it is in that month Dad's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

We pass no opinion; all months are the same to us. We live the Simple Life.

Fathers Day sentiment Australia 1911

The humour caught on, and the same paper published this satirical Father's Day verse the following week:



What flowers now can I suggest
For father dear? Something to place upon his breast
Just once a year.
No pallid pure carnation white,
Antithesis of wicked night,
But something that depicts 'orlright'
Good cheer!

Something to represent the nose
Of father dear—
A red geranium or a rose
To wear;
A poppy or a waratah,
Shining like some red baleful star,
To represent the conk of Pa —
And — beer!

A cornflower for the 'langwitch" blue
Of dad;
Something of brilliant purple hue—
No fad.
Emblem of sentences that flow
From Pop when he is "on the go,"
And run like some great river's flow
Gone mad!

A little sprig of mignonette
For Pop,
Within his Sunday coat to set
On top,
To drown the fumes of ancient "meth,"
And "pongelo" and "sudden death,"
That linger on his morning breath,
And stop.

Too long has mother had the floor
By far,
Whilst still they shove behind the door
Poor pa;
So, what's wrong with a Father's Day?
What's wrong with it, I ask you, pray?
For Dad, let's shout "Hip hip, hooray!

So once a year in our lapel
We'll place
A red rose for that infidel,
Who toils to find, our board and bed,
A roof to cover o'er our head,
And after all, let it he said,

This dismissive humour continued throughout the 1910s, with Father's Day continuing to be seen as something of a new American fashion. Our great-grandfathers, and the Fathers of early twentieth-century Australia, seemed less than excited about a day spent eating chocolate and being made a fuss of. You can see this attitude in two Satirical Father's Day poems from 1912 and 1914:

Father's Day Poem 1912

Father's Day Poem 1914

In 1913, Adelaide's The Journal and Brisbane's The Telegraph seemed to agree that Father's Day in Australia was unnecessary, and quoted the New York Post claiming it only showed how far a Father's status had declined in the modern era. "Until our own era, his supremacy was taken as a matter of course… the head of a household needed no rose in his buttonhole to tell him that he was what he was… surely his spirit is not yet so broken as to make him welcome attentions more suited to the hospital than the counting room."

In 1917, Australians still didn't seem inclined to want to put aside a day to celebrate fatherhood. Historical newspaper editorials and classified ads like the ad below show Father's Day had a very slow start in Australia.


(We asked a lady we know was it true that there was a movement on foot to institute a "Father's Day?" She said, "No! certainly not!... Father had a day whenever he felt inclined.")

Fathers Day Australia 1917

It wasn't until 1919 that notices for Father's Day church services began to appear in Sydney newspapers. At this stage, Australia was still undecided on a date for Father's Day. The few churches that seemed to be offering Father's Day services in Australia were following America in using the third Sunday in June for the occasion. There was no talk yet of picnics, cards, and breakfast in bed for Dad. But at least the idea of Father's Day was becoming less comical. Those attending services were also encouraged to wear a red flower to honour Fathers. You can see how opinions towards Father's Day were changing in this event announcement column:


Next Lord's Day, June 8th is observed as Fathers' Day. Pastor J. E. Allan, of the Church of Christ, has arranged a special evening service in honour of the day. The chapel will be decorated with red flowers and those attending the service are requested to wear a red flower in honour of father. Mr Allan announces his subject as "A Fathers' Power."

Father's Day sentiment 1919

Even in 1920, the debate continued. It seems popular opinion was divided. The general consensus was that Dad had enough days throughout the year that were his own, although this submission to the Guyra Argus in July 1920 suggested children might appreciate seeing their Father if he had reason to stay home for a change:

Why Not a "Father's Day?"
Someone has suggested the institution of a 'Father's Day.' There are (says a contributor to an exchange) people who affirm that 'father' already has too many official days in his calendar. The conventional one birthday in each year does not always satisfy his ambition to pose in the limelight, he is apt to declare a 'birthday' in his own honor at any old time the fancy strikes him. The mothers, on the other hand, do not seem to have acquired the birthday habit to the same degree. One every four or five years is about all they care to celebrate. Perhaps, that is why there are so many bald-headed men in the world and so many women who manage to maintain an air of ever-lasting youth. But when you come to think of it, 'father' does not get a very big share of the glory. Great men often attribute their greatness to the influence of 'mother' —rarely of 'father.' Poets sing her praises and her virtues in immortalised song; it is usually his depravity and his general unworthiness that is advertised. Compare, for instance, ' Dreaming of Home and Mother' with ' Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me Now,' and you have a very good illustration of the relative values attached to 'mother' and ' the old man.' Yes, I really think we ought to have a 'Father's Day.' It might induce him to stay at home once a year, and give his children a chance of becoming acquainted with him.

Father's Day debate 1920

It took the work of Ms Janet Heyden, who was also the driving force behind Mother's Day in Australia, for Australian Dads to have their chance at being showered with small gifts as a token of affection from their wives and children. Beginning in 1925, Ms Heyden organised the donation, collection, and delivery of small gifts to elderly men who were alone in hospitals or retirement homes. This began our tradition of giving gifts on Father's Day, and interestingly, many of these traditional presents are still given as Father's Day gifts today.

Here are two ads from 1925 and 1926, respectively, that ask for gifts:


The second Sunday in June has been set aside as Fathers' Day at Lidcombe Asylum, to bring cheer into the lives of the old men. Mrs. J. Heyden appeals for donations of pipes, tobacco, cigarettes, woollen mufflers, mittens, balaclava caps, bed socks, games, cakes, and sweets. Gifts may be left at the Feminist Club, 77 King Street, or 5 Norton Street, Leichhardt.

Father's Day 1925

Father's Day

Mrs. J. Heyden, of Leichhardt, has arranged that the second Sunday in June is to be Father's Day at the Liverpool Asylum. Gifts of mufflers, mittens, handkerchiefs, pipes, tobacco, safety matches, scented soap, sweets, etc., would be greatly appreciated, and may be left at the Feminist Club, 77 King Street, or "Florist," 5 Norton St., Leichhardt.

Fathers Day 1926

While the grassroots push to recognise Father's Day had begun in Sydney, it appears not everyone was aware of the occasion. Mother's Day was gaining popularity fast, while these historical snippets on Father's Day in Australia show it wasn't embraced as eagerly. Women continued to advocate for the day with suggestions for possible flowers to represent Father's Day and the date that Australia should designate for the day. A woman sent this letter to the Adelaide News in 1929, for instance:

Father's Day

"Mother's Request," Richmond:—In my home on Mother's Day I am kissed by each member of the family and given a white flower and a small present.

All who call do so come to tea and the table is decorated with white flowers. A white iced cake with the word "Mother" on it. and other delicacies are provided. I prize all that is done for me, but the affection of my family comes first. In return I give small gifts. It is a happy occasion.

I have wondered why a special day is not set apart in honor of fathers. Father is head of his house. Would not the first Sunday in May be suitable for such a celebration? A red flower, meaning "love," or a blue flower for constancy could be worn. I sounded a few fathers and found that they favored blue. I am sure that the holding of a Father's Day would stir up greater affection among families and father would feel that he was as well loved as mother.

Historical newspaper Father's Day Australia 1929

The same year, the following sketch appeared in the classified ads of the Lismore's Northern Star in September, suggesting a September date for Father's Day was on the cards for Australia and that Dad might expect more than just a flower for his buttonhole.

History of Fathers Day in Australia

Adelaide's The Mail published the following humorous Father's Day editorial in September 1930, complaining that poor Fathers were still not getting the attention they deserved. Apparently, the September date for Father's Day in Australia was ongoing (although on a Saturday at this stage), even if families were not yet making the most of the occasion to let their Dad know how special he was beyond his role as breadwinner.

Historical newspaper article Father's Day 1930

While it was a decade after Ms Heyden's Father's Day gift collection efforts in Sydney and a full twenty-four years since the first Father's Day in America, the idea had not yet caught on enough for families to consider Father's Day an essential Australian calendar event. Even in 1934, there were still regular requests from community members, generally women, promoting the idea of a regularly observed Father's Day in Australia.

Historical newspaper request for Father's Day 1934

This reader was quickly educated in this reply that shows Father's Day in Australia was officially "inaugurated in 1922, the first Sunday in November having been chosen as his day. The red rose was chosen as his emblem." While Father's Day may have been officially recognised in 1922, clearly, it had not become a commercialised occasion, and Fathers were still missing out on the love they freely receive today.

Official Father's Day 1934

In 1936, the Bathurst National Advocate seemed rather unenthused about Father's Day, according to this old newspaper article. While it was far from the third annual date for Father's Day in Australia, this article shows that the day was not yet established enough in Australia to be widely recognised.

The third annual commemoration of Father's Day in Australia, was observed, yesterday, and many tokens of appreciation were handed to fathers by their offsprings. Pipes, tobacco pouches, handkerchiefs, cigars, socks, and a rare golf stick were amongst the presents. However, fathers have long since abandoned any pretence to rousing so much enthusiasm as mothers and they are little worried if the day, which is decreed as theirs, is honored more in the breach than the observance.

Third annual Father's Day in Australia 1936

In the same year, an article in the Newcastle Sun in September 1936 proclaimed Father's Day to be a new event for the calendar.

Father's Day
A new day for the Calendar is "Father's Day," September 6. Mothers' Day has become very popular, and maybe "Father's Day" will. The colored flower for father is red. A special "Father's Day" meeting for Newcastle has been arranged, and will be held Sunday, September 6, in the Newcastle Baptist Tabernacle at 4.30 p.m. The special speaker will be the well-known "broadcast" preacher, Pastor Weller, of Sydney, who will speak on THE FOUR-SQUARE MAN... The meeting will be open to men of all denominations, and all fathers are requested to invite their sons. The Tabernacle is not far from the Newcastle Town Hall.

New Calendar Event Father's Day 1936

1936 saw a range of regional newspaper articles encouraging families throughout Australia to remember their Dad on Father's Day. South Australia's Glenelg Guardian shared the following reminder in August. The same newspaper edition also had an ad inviting readers to inspect Ryan's magnificent spring display of new stock.

Sunday, September 6th, being "Father's Day," will undoubtedly soon become a "National Day." "Mother's Day" is now so keenly observed each year that it will ever remain a "National Day." How appreciative mothers show themselves when a little present is handed to them on Mother's Day, and what a pleasure in giving. You will find "Dear old Dad" will appreciate some little gift on September 6th, also.
See Ryan's windows for some suggestions for inexpensive gifts for Father's Day. Remember September 6th.

Father's Day Gifts 1936

The post-war years saw varying opinions about the importance of Father's Day. The Mercury in Hobart (below) printed one woman's perspective on Father's Day in 1945. Other articles around the same period complained that the event was merely an opportunity for stores to make a profit.

Fathers' Day:
TOMORROW is Fathers' Day, the one day in the year on which we pay official tribute - to the universal provider -or do we pay it throughout the year?
It seems to me that father gets a somewhat better "spin" during the year than mother. His chair is ready, and his slippers are beside the fire. It is his favourite dish which gets cooked for dinner.
But then again it is father who mows the lawn, mends the fence, and incidentally pays the bills.
So to father, we pay tribute. He has carried on wonderfully well throughout the war years, and there will be a very special tribute for the fathers who are spending this day of celebration at home after years of service overseas.

Father's Day opinion 1945

It appears that by 1958 Australia had finally officially recognised the date. The following article was printed in several newspapers around the country, including Bourke's Western Herald:

Father's Day — Founded by a Mother
The founder of Father's Day is a mother. She is Mrs. John Bruce Dodd, of Spokane, Washington. The idea for Father's Day came to her one morning in 1909, as she was washing dishes while her son, John Bruce Dodd, Jnr., gurgled happily beside her in a high chair.
It was her way of honouring her father, who raised her and five motherless brothers. This was a natural expression of love, devotion, and gratitude of this daughter toward her Dad, and as such, touched the life of families throughout the English-speaking world.
According to Mrs. Dodd, Father's Day would be the way to fulfil the need of calling attention to father's place in the home, training the children, the safeguarding of the marriage tie, the protection of womanhood and childhood.
In Australia, Father's Day began in 1935, and though not officially recognised, it grew in importance over the years, through the individual efforts of many.
Added significance to Father's Day, as a dramatic salute to Dad, has come about through the formation of the Father's Day Council of Australia, now active in N.S.W., Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia.
The first Sunday in September (Sept. 7, 1958) has now officially been designated as Father's Day throughout the Commonwealth.

Father's Day Gifts 1958

Governmental recognition of Father's Day was the result of sustained efforts from advocates and the National Father's Day Committee in America. Founded in 1942, the committee campaigned hard to get Father's Day celebrated.

In 1964, Father's Day was well-established in Australia, including the tradition of giving gifts. A lengthy article in Fairfield's The Biz newspaper titled FATHER'S DAY—1964 A DAY TO REMEMBER spoke of the Father's Day Council of Australia, saying one of its aims is to reinstate Father as 'head of the house' while also suggesting Dad deserved a little pampering.

Father's Day—1964 A Day To Remember

"While the function of the council is not to promote Father's Day as a great orgy of present giving, it does seem a pity to let the day go by without some token of the family's regard for the man of the house. The gifts don't need to be expensive, unless you wish them to be. In fact, the nicest 'present' of all would probably be to absolve father from all chores for the day — no gardening, no repair jobs (let the taps drip for once) and no washing up! For the many who will want to give a present worthy of the day, here are a few suggestions . .
Men's wear (particularly sox, shirts, handkerchiefs, jewellery and accessories, neckwear, hats and caps). Tobacco, tools and hardware, books and periodicals, electric shavers, sports goods, luggage, records and lawn mowers.
Yet again, choose the type he can charge overnight ready for use first thing in the morning — bed, of course, on Father's Day! Perhaps Dad goes to business. In that case wouldn't he appreciate a fine leather 'Carry-all' or briefcase in which to put his business papers and 'homework'. No more paper bags or parcels for Dad, now everything can go into his briefcase. Maybe Father is the sporting type. Wouldn't' it be a marvellous surprise for him to be presented with a lovely set of golf sticks and buggy that he would be proud to have on any golf course. But whatever you buy, remember the real meaning behind Father's Day, the purpose which makes it a truly family day and one to be treasured as such."

A similar article the following year also looked at what Father's Day means to the family.

Father's Day Council of Australia 1964

It may have taken several decades, but Dads around Australia can be grateful that they finally get to put their feet up and enjoy an appropriately pampering Father's Day. The true joy of Father's Day is in spending the day with family, receiving a handmade card, and having the perfect excuse to do as little as possible. Games of cricket, a day at the beach, tinkering in the shed, a camping trip, and a day of fishing are all popular ways to spend Father's Day in Australia.

FAQs about the history of Father's Day

In this section, we'll answer some common questions about the history of Father's Day.

When did Father's Day start, and why was it founded?

The first Father's Day celebration was held in 1908 to honour the lives of 361 men who were killed in the Fairmont Coal Company mine explosion the previous December. The next Father's Day event was held in 1910 with the goal of honouring Fathers and fatherhood as a whole. From there, Father's Day grew slowly, and it was finally recognised officially in Australia in 1958.

Father's Day was founded to celebrate the role of Fathers and thank them for their hard work and dedication. Celebrating Father's Day is also important because it recognises the role of Fathers in society.

What is the history of Father's Day in Australia?

Father's Day in Australia grew alongside Mother's Day. It was celebrated in small ways in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, it had reached some level of mainstream recognition. At this time, the majority of Father's Day celebrations were held in churches. After the government officially recognised Father's Day in 1958, it started to become more mainstream. Gradually, families developed traditions, and by the 2000s, it was widely celebrated in schools, churches, and institutions. Today, most families celebrate Father's Day in some form, and it's a national holiday.

Why is Father's Day in Australia different?

Father's Day, internationally, is celebrated on different dates. Many countries celebrate it on the third Sunday of June. Australia celebrates it on the first Sunday of September. There are a few reasons for this, including that:

  • Australia is a Commonwealth country, and the Commonwealth declared that the first Sunday in September is to be considered Father's Day in 1964.
  • September is the first month of spring, so families can celebrate outside.
  • Mother's Day is in May, so a June Father's Day would be overshadowed.
  • Australia has many national and public holidays in the first half of the year, so Father's Day would be competing with many other celebrations.

Was Mother's Day the inspiration for Father's Day?

Yes, Mother's Day was the inspiration for Father's Day. Specifically, people saw how meaningful and special it was to honour Mothers on Mother's Day, and they realised that Fathers deserve the same celebrations.

While the two holidays have similar origin stories, Father's Day traditions like picnicking and playing cricket separate it from Mother's Day.

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