DR. R. Thomas Webb, Minister, Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, authorized the first Father's Day Service in America, at Fairmont, West Virginia on July 5, 1908.

2 Corinthians 5:17: The love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And he died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. This was Dr. Webb’s favorite passage.

Dr. Robert Thomas Webb was the pastor at Williams Memorial Methodist Church South on two occasions: 1905-1908 and 1915-1918. He agreed to the first Father’s Day Service on the request of one of his parishioners, Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton on July 5, 1908.

Dr. Webb was born in Louisburg, North Carolina on August 30, 1866. He attended Randolph Macon College in 1890 at the age of 24. He then attended Vanderbilt Seminary where he graduated in 1902. He married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Adelaine Robertson of Virginia in 1898. They had three wonderful boys, but they all died young. Their first son Robert died in infancy. Twins came next, but one of them, Ruffner, also died in infancy. The other twin Vernon died in his teens - from smallpox.

After graduation, he was appointed to teach at the Barboursville Seminary of Morris Harvey College. He taught there in 1904 and 1905 and made a salary of $675.00. He attended church there where Rev. Fletcher Golden had pastored some thirty-five years before. When Dr. Webb came to Fairmont in 1905, one of his members was Grace Golden Clayton, daughter of Reverend Fletcher Golden. He would serve three years at the Williams Memorial Church. At the same time, he was appointed President of the Conference Board of Education and Chairman of the Morris Harvey College Board of Trustees. The great love he had for this church was reflected in him being appointed a second time in 1917. He led the way for the building of the present church at 301 Fairmont Avenue.

When the tragedy of Monogah broke on December 6, 1907, there was a bond between the Webb and Clayton family that led to the formation of the first Father’s Day Service. First, both had lost children in infancy; the Clayton's had already lost one child and would lose another two years later. And many children had likewise been killed in the Monogah Mine Explosion.

Second, both had a compassion for the situation. Dr. Webb was a leading supporter among Fairmont area ministers collecting money for the families. The picture on the left is an appeal letter signed by Dr. Webb and other ministers in the Monogah and Fairmont area on January 2, 1908 for the miners’ families.

And Mrs. Clayton would be quoted in the September 23, 1939 newspaper by historian and author, Glenn Lough, as saying, “It was partially the explosion that it would be a blessed thing if fathers, not only mothers, were given a day for remembering, and honoring, 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.”

And third, a distinguished church member was Smith Hood, a Sunday School teacher, and manager of the Fairmont and Clarksburg Electric Railroad Company. Its parent owner, Consolidation Coal Company, was so impressed with him that he was asked to settle all the claims for over 300 family members, and that lasted 5 months. As he worked first hand with the families that must have made an impression on people who knew him at Williams Memorial Church.

And so, the day was observed on July 5, 1908.

Ward Downs, a prominent member of the church, wrote this letter to then State Congressman Arch Moore on August 10, 1972 when Congress was deciding on a date to nationalize Father’s Day. Congressman Moore never responded.

"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.”

There were three reasons why Fairmont was never considered as the birthplace for Father’s Day.

First, July 4, 1908 was the largest celebration in Fairmont history. Over 12,000 people saw dare devil acts, including a man roll atop a ball to the top of the adjacent Bank Building on a spiral stairway. There was also a hot air balloon show, and a day of games and eats that made headlines over the next few days.

Second, on Saturday evening, July 4, Miss Lucy Billingslea, only 16 years old, died of Typhoid Fever after being ill for 3 weeks. This wonderful adopted and only child of Colonel Morgan and Mrs. Billingslea, died at her house. When people arrived on Sunday July 5, they were shocked to learn about the death while thinking of the July 4 celebration. On Tuesday, July 6, the newspaper carried the obituary and the sermon of the funeral. 17 carriages lined up in front of the church. So exhausted was Dr. Webb that he took a fishing and hunting trip with fellow friends the next day. Therefore the church, city, or county never thought about promoting this event at all. In fact, the church, for many years, didn’t even observe the day.

And third, Grace Clayton was very quiet and unassuming person. She never publicly spoke about the event, wrote any letters to family or friends, or, as far as is known, even discussed it with any one else.

Following his first ministry in Fairmont in 1908 he would return to Charleston to First Church; then the Barboursville Church in 1912, back to Fairmont from 1915-1918 and St. Paul’s in Parkersburg until 1920. Then he became Conference Secretary of Education and Teacher at Morris Harvey and in 1922 he became the fifth President of Morris Harvey. President-elect Vaughn resigned before starting due to the financial difficulty of a $3,500 operating deficit. However, by the end of the first year Morris Harvey had a cash balance of $4,400 under President Webb. Frank Krebs’ book, Where There Is Faith: The Morris Harvey Story, 1888-1970, describes his tenure.

In 1925 he went to Clarksburg but returned to Morris Harvey in 1929 until 1931. He then went to Pikeville, Kentucky. In both 1926 and 1930 he was elected to General Conference. Dr. Webb would retire to Petersburg, Virginia and die there in 1939, the same year much of the branches of Methodist came together.


This information from a Sermon preached by Reverend D. D. Meighen, July 6, 2003, on the Ninety-Fifth Anniversary of the first Father's Day Service in America. Since no relatives remain, information comes from newspapers years ago, the Holston and Western Virginia Methodist Episcopal Church South Journals, and the Archives at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.



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