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Finally, The Truth about Fathers’ Day


Image of Edward Swineford (MSS4 N213b 31-33)

Okay, I’ll admit it. Since becoming a parent, two of my favorite holidays are Christmas and . . . well . . . Fathers’ Day. Christmas has always been meaningful to me, but having children, even grown children, has perennially helped me to recapture the wonder and excitement of the season and the day. The significance of Fathers’ Day, I certainly understand, is measured on a whole different scale, but having a day set aside to honor fathers offers a similar welcome opportunity of taking time out of very busy schedules to gather all the family together. My pleasure in it has absolutely nothing to do with me, the father, being the center of attention. Really . . . nothing.

Now, the cynical among us can claim a conspiracy among greeting card companies, restaurants, and department stores in pushing holidays to celebrate mothers, fathers, grandparents, third cousins once removed. But, in fact, the history of a national recognition of fathers goes back a good ways and actually involves an inspiring story of a young Virginia woman of the early twentieth century.

Kate Richardson Swineford of Drewry’s Bluff wanted to honor her father, Edward, in a special way. Even before the close of World War I, she began an effort to bring particular recognition to fathers, which led to her formation of the National Fathers’ Day Association in 1921. Her initial goal was to secure
designation of the second Sunday in June as “Fathers’ Day.” But she soon
learned that date was already set as “Childrens’ Day” (whatever happened to that?). So, she shifted focus to the third Sunday in that month.

Finding encouragement for her idea locally, and with the support of Virginia governors Westmoreland Davis and E. Lee Trinkle, matched with a good bit of dogged persistence, Kate Swineford (whose married name was Burgess) succeeded in securing trademark status for Fathers’ Day from the United States Patent Office in 1933. Her father lived until 1961 and thus likely enjoyed a good number of “official” yearly celebrations of his parenthood thanks to the vision and tenacity of his daughter.

Katie Richardson Swineford

Image of Kate Richardson Swineford (MSS4 N213b 31-33)

A few years before her death in 1993, Mrs. Burgess entrusted records of the National Fathers’ Day Association, Inc., to the Virginia Historical Society, so that the story of her efforts could be preserved and told. The collection, accessible in the society’s library reading room, includes a letter from Governor Davis, a proclamation by Governor Trinkle, and photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Swineford and Mrs. Burgess.

There must be few things in life more rewarding than the acknowledgment by a child or children that you have somehow managed to do a creditable job as a parent. My kids love the humorous cards with sarcastic expressions about old dad, but I think that is what they are telling me. I know whatever they do always means a great deal to me.

So, everybody, where are you all taking me for dinner?

Lee Shepard is the former Vice President for Collections at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture. 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 06/15/2012 9:09 am

    Happy Fathers’ Day Lee to you and all the other fathers out there. That is a neat collection to have.


  2. Kelleigh Ledgerwood permalink
    06/16/2012 1:05 pm

    As your daughter, I must say that I am VERY proud of you for this article. And you expect dinner???? 😉 Hahaha! Just kidding! Love you!


    • E. Lee Shepard permalink
      06/17/2012 3:28 pm

      Oh well, maybe I can try for dinner again next year. It’s always worth a shot!


      • Kelleigh Ledgerwood permalink
        06/17/2012 7:04 pm

        Hahaha! By the way, anyone reading this, we DID take him to dinner…River City Diner. 🙂


  3. patsyhall permalink
    06/22/2015 2:14 pm

    Kate Burgess is my Great Aunt. I think I still have a Richmond Times news article about this from years and years ago that my mother saved. It was amazing to discover this article! My daughter found it and sent it on to me. If my Mom was still alive she would have been so proud to see this!


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