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A Brief History of Mother's Day and Father's Day

The days warm up, the flowers pop into bloom and just like clockwork Mother's Day arrives every second Sunday of May. Then on the verge of summer, Father's Day follows on the third Sunday in June. Perfect opportunities to honor important people in everybody's life — but how did these holidays come about?

Mother’s Day Began to Bring Mothers Together

The movement toward a formal Mother’s Day began after the Civil War era in an effort to share some common ground between the mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers. In 1870, the activist Julia Ward Howe issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” calling on a “general congress of women” to “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, [and] the great and general interests of peace,” according to History.com.

By 1909, 45 states observed the day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution to create a national holiday in honor of “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”

The Father's Day Story

Dads are pretty popular too, with their families at least, but it took a lot longer to formalize a special day for them. After the turn of the 20th century, a few communities held an observance for fathers, but the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day didn't occur until 1910 in Washington State. The idea gained gradual traction, but many people thought the proposed holiday was mostly a merchants' ploy to promote gift sales.

With the Second World War, Father’s Day observances were promoted as a tribute to American troops. Finally, in 1972, Richard Nixon signed the proclamation that made Father’s Day a federal holiday. Today, Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts for the nation's 70 million fathers.

Since It All Began

Changes in American life and culture have been profound since these holidays began. Advances in medicine and public health have given both fathers and mothers the biggest bonus of all: More years to celebrate these special holidays. Women's life expectancy in 1914, when their holiday became law, was about 54 years, and now it's a bit over 81. American men's lives averaged 68 years in 1972, but now the figure has climbed to over 76, with some differences depending on race and ethnic background.

So instead of the usual flowers or dinner out for Mom and tie for Dad, why not help them further the trend of longer, healthier lives? Choose gifts that contribute to an active lifestyle, or even consider gifting them a medical alert device so access to the help they want is just a button away.

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