President's Day or Presidents' Day? What Should We Really Be Celebrating?

February 15, 2021

"Washington is the mightiest name of earth . . . On that name, [a] eulogy is expected. It cannot be. To add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington, is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce his name, and in its naked deathless splendor, leave it shining on." – Abraham Lincoln, February 22, 1842.


Today is Presidents' Day, a federal holiday in the United States. Always the third Monday of February, it's a three-day holiday for many workers and a benefit for retailers as they advertise special events to bolster their sales.


There is a little misinformation and a little forgetfulness about President's Day -- or Presidents' Day (where the apostrophe now rests after the "s"). So what's the story?

President's Day originated as a celebration of George Washington, our first American president. After Washington died in 1799, his birthday on February 22 became a day of remembrance (beginning in 1800). Washington has been considered the most significant figure in American History, and events like the centennial of his birth in 1832 and the start of construction of the Washington Monument in 1848 were cause for national celebration. 

American Flag at rest

Washington's birthday was an unofficial observance until the late 1870s.  Arkansas Senator Stephen Wallace Dorsey proposed that this date should become a national federal holiday. When President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law in 1879, Washington's birthday joined four other existing bank holidays previously approved in 1870. Because Abraham Lincoln's birthday was February 12, it was proposed that the observance celebrate both past presidents. At the time, the idea was rejected by Congress.   

When did the shift from President's Day to Presidents' Day happen? It began in 1968 when Congress proposed legislation called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This would shift the celebration of some federal holidays from their specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays, giving many American workers three-day weekends to enjoy throughout the year. 

Many argued that this shift from Washington's birthday to a specific Monday every year would cheapen the first president's remembrance, and future generations would forget his prominence to American history. But there was overwhelming support from labor unions and even the private sector for the change. It was believed that the stimulating effects of the winter holidays would fade by February, and a break was needed to regain some of that lost stamina. (  Three-day holiday weekends, it was argued, could inspire greater productivity, with less employee absenteeism. 

On June 28, 1968, the passing of the bill included the provision to combine the celebration of Washington's birthday with that of Abraham Lincoln and moving the federal holiday to the third Monday of February. Lincoln's birthday was already a state holiday in places like Illinois, so giving equal recognition to two of America's most famous statesmen seemed the obvious move. 

Misinformation on the internet gives President Nixon credit for naming Washington's birthday as President's Day as a presidential proclamation in 1971. The problem is that if you check any of the Nixon archives or the Library of Congress, you will find no such thing! What did happen was that Nixon issued a standard executive order announcing the implementation of the new federal holiday calendar. In a separate statement, Nixon recognized Abraham Lincoln's birthday but did not suggest, refer to or use the term "Presidents' Day in his executive orders. (National Archives) 

Now we have Presidents' Day, viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present. Do you agree that this holiday should be a celebration for all presidents? Or should it be solely for Washington and Lincoln? Do you think schools do enough to teach students the importance of George Washington in American History? Leave your comments below!

15 Fun Facts About Presidents Day And Our National Parks | National Park Foundation

Other presidential fun facts: 

Besides George Washington's birthday (February 22, 1732) and Abraham Lincoln's (February 12, 1809), there are two other presidents who have birthdays: William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773) and Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911). 

President's Day gained special meaning during the difficulties of the Great Depression, when portraits of George Washington often graced the front pages of newspapers and magazines every February 22. ( 

In 1932, the date was used to reinstate the Purple Heart, a military decoration originally created by George Washington to honor soldiers killed or wounded while serving in the armed forces. 

Resources used for this post:  

Presidents' Day |
Presidents' Day | Federal Holiday, History, & Facts | Britannica
Presidents Day | National Today
George Washington’s Birthday | National Archives


  1. Hmm, I didn't remember that history about our celebration of President's or Presidents' Day. I definitely support three-day work holidays, but am neutral, I guess, about how many presidents should be included. To be honest, I wish we could celebrate them in another month and preserve all of February as an exclusive focus for black history.

  2. I did not know about the Uniform Monday Holiday Act until I read about it in Roy's post a while ago; and your post explains the history of this act along with that of Presidents' Day itself.. thanks for the info..

  3. Actually, if you were from NY, you had TWO holidays in February. Lincoln's (12) and Washington (22)- they were BOTH replaced with one, President's Day. As it said in the legislation discussions.


Powered by Blogger.