A History of President’s Day

President's Day

Did you know that the officially observed federal holiday is not actually called President’s Day? Since neither the President nor Congress has ever declared a name change, it is still known as Washington’s Birthday in honor of founding father President George Washington.  According to historians, Americans chose to observe Washington’s birthday after his death in 1799 as a means of honoring his contributions to the country. His birthday was later declared a legal holiday under President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879.

However, Washington’s birthday was on February 22, so how did the observance migrate to a few days earlier in the month? As it turns out, Congress chose to mandate what is known as the Monday Holiday Law to create a more uniform means of observing legal public holidays and create more three-day weekends for federal workers. It was argued by Congress that having more three-day weekends would, “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.” Many Americans can probably get behind that sentiment.

The date of the observance was thus moved to the third Monday in February, effectively preventing it from ever being celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday as the third Monday in February is never later than the 21st. Even if the observance no longer falls on his true birthdate, Washington is still remembered on President’s Day as American’s across the country honor his life and legacy.