301 Fairmont Avenue, Fairmont, WV 26554 Phone (304)366-3351 Fax (304)366-3374 Email hevenerh@aol.com

Father's Day

Most will likely have no knowledge of the origin of this special day or how it came to be observed. Some may remember that President Richard M. Nixon signed a congressional resolution in 1972 that established a national Father's Day to be observed annually on the third Sunday in June. And there may be those who assume that Father's Day was put on the calendar to supplement Mother's Day, which is established annually as the second Sunday in May.

But the fact is the first Father's Day observance was held on July 5, 1908, at Fairmont, West Virginia through the efforts of Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton. The seeds were planted a half year before, on December 6, 1907, when a horrible mine explosion at Monongah killed more than 360 men, 210 of whom were fathers. 250 widows and more than 1,000 children were left grieving. Thoughts of these lonely persons touched Grace Clayton deeply. She suggested to her pastor, Dr. Robert Thomas Webb at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South, that it would be helpful if fathers were given a special day to be honored and remembered. Her father, Rev. Fletcher Golden, a Methodist minister, had died in 1896, and she still missed his fatherly guidance. She suggested the Sunday closest to his birthday, July 8th. In 1908 the Sunday closest was July 5. Glenn Lough, former Marion County historian, writing in the Fairmont Times of Sept. 23, 1979 shares this quote from Mrs. Clayton to her pastor, Dr. Robert T. Webb on a day to remember and honor both fathers and mothers. "It was partly the explosion that set me to think 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. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such an awful time."

Additionally, she had lost two children at a young age and could feel the lost those parents felt in Monongah. Likewise, she came in contact with Smith Hood, member of the church who had won the respect of all as he processed all settlement claims to the families in the disaster. Mother's Day may have had a small influence, which had originated some 20 miles away at Webster, W. Va. (near Grafton). Dr. Webb was quite receptive, because he had also lost 2 sons in birth, and a Father's Day service was held July 5.

One church members who attended that service was Ward Downs. Some forty years later, having heard there was a movement in the United States Congress to establish a Father Day's, he wrote on August 10, 1962 to then United States House of Representative Arch Moore the following letter.

"It has recently come to my attention of a movement establishing a Father's Day by an act of Congress to be observed the same as Mother's Day. It was my privilege to have attended the first Father's Day Service July 5, 1908 at the Williams Memorial M.E. Church, South, now the Central United Methodist Church, Fairmont, WV. The sermon was preached by Dr. R.T. Webb at the request of Mrs. Charles Clayton, a member of that congregation, and daughter of a Methodist minister. 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. Any assistance you can give this movement will be very much appreciated by me and all the Methodists in this part of the country."

But the city and even the church members did not remember the event for two major reasons: First, the largest gathering in Fairmont occurred on July 4, 1908 when over 12,000 people attended a parade and festivities in the city. Highlights included a tightrope walker who rolled on a ten foot ball from the Court House to the top of what is now WestBanco, an appearance of a hot air balloon, food, and entertainment. All this was highlighted in (Fairmont Times, Monday, July 6, 1908). The second was the death of Miss Lucy Ethel Billingslea, the 21 year old adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Billingslea of Locust Ave. "whose critical illness was mentioned from time to time passed away Sat. night, July 4 at 10:40 o'clock." This also appeared in Monday's newspaper. When people arrived at the church on Sunday July 5th, their thoughts were not directly related to Father's Day.

For these obvious reasons, no one felt the desire to follow through to convince the City of Fairmont or the State of West Virginia to issue a proclamation establishing an annual Father's Day - an unfortunate omission, since other persons and other locations ultimately received credit for the founding of Father's Day. Over the next several years, a number of persons 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.

Fairmont does not claim to have popularized Father's Day in 1908 or even to have established it as a national holiday. Mrs. Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1910 and Harry Meek in Chicago a few years later are given some of the credit for that. But history will show that Fairmont held the first Father's Day Service in America on July 5, 1908 at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South; now known as Central United Methodist Church. And for that the history of this event is etched into our rich heritage as a faith community, as a city, county, and country

The original church building was torn down when a new church was constructed in 1922 at the southwest corner of Third Street and Fairmont Avenue and named Billingslea Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South. 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 W. Va. Department of Archives and History. In 2003 an original Father's Day Play was presented. In 2004 Central United Methodist received the church of the year award, partially for its involvement with Father's Day, and in 2005 a wall hanging quilt to commemorate Father's Day was made by the Piece Makers, a group of quilters from the church. In 2002-2004 Rev. D.D. Meighen, the current minister, has presented the story of Grace Clayton, Dr. R. Thomas Webb, and the Rev. Fletcher Golden. In 2005, the Piece Makers quilted a wall hanging of Father's Day

Rev. D.D. Meighen
June 15, 2005
With assistance from Tom Koon,
Former president of the Marion County Historical Society