A History of President’s Day
As you enjoy your “day off” today, here are a few fun facts about President’s Day!
It All Started with George Washington
Following the death of George Washington in 1799, his February 22nd birthday became a perennial day of remembrance. Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas first proposed February 22nd as a federal holiday and President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law in 1879.
Only for Washington D.C.?
The holiday initially only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country and became the first federal holiday to celebrate the life of an individual American. The other four nationally recognized federal holidays were Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, the 4th of July and Thanksgiving.
Everyone Loves a 3-Day Weekend!
The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day began in the late 1960s, when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, designed to shift the celebration of several federal holidays to a series of predetermined Mondays, seen by many as a novel way to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and officially took effect in 1971 following an executive order from President Richard Nixon. Because of this, Columbus Day and Memorial Day were moved from their traditionally designated dates to Mondays.
Lincoln Joins Washington
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with that of Abraham Lincoln, which fell on February 12, joining the two days as way of giving equal recognition to two of America’s most famous statesmen.
Never Actually on a Birthday
Presidents’ Day never falls on the actual birthday of any American president. Four chief executives were born in February – George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan – but their birthdays all come either too early or late to coincide with Presidents’ Day which is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month.
Many banks and schools are closed in observance of Presidents’ Day. The New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ are closed for trading. The post office is not open and non-essential federal workers have the day off.
Celebrations and Traditions Today
Presidents’ Day is used by many patriotic and historical groups as a date for staging celebrations, reenactments and other events. Several states also require their public schools spend the days leading up to Presidents’ Day teaching students about the accomplishments of the presidents, often with a focus on the lives of Washington and Lincoln.