Washington died in 1799 and the following year, his birthday was a day of remembrance. During the late 1870s the date became a federal holiday. Many patriotic and historical groups use Presidents’ Day to stage celebrations, reenactments and other events. A number of school districts require teachers to focus on our nation’s presidents in the days leading to the holiday. Arkansas senator, Steven W. Dorsey proposed the holiday and in 1879; President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law.
At first, it was only a holiday practiced in Washington D.C., joining Christmas, New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving as bank holidays, but it soon expanded to the whole nation.
It wasn’t until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act from the early 1970s (which was proposed to add more three day weekends for the nation’s workers,) that the date was changed to the third Monday of February, combining Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday together. Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, Washington was born on Feb. 22 and Robert McClory, Illinois Senator, proposed the bill and the name “Presidents Day.” The bill passed but the name was not made popular until the mid-1980s when retailers used the name to boost retail sales.
The changing of the date for celebration from the actual date of birth to the same day each year faced opposition. There were those who thought the act would lessen the commemoration in some way.
There were still states who had individual holidays to celebrate Washington, Lincoln and other figures.
Presidents Day is now popularly used as a day to honor all U.S. presidents, past and present.
Washington and Lincoln are still the two most recognized leaders, but Presidents Day is now seen as a day to recognize all American Chief Executives.