Washington’s Birthday aka Presidents Day

George Washington with Flag

Although Oregon may celebrate the 3rd Monday in February as Presidents Day, did you know that the United States Government still recognizes this federal holiday as “George Washington’s Birthday”? 

A card printed for Washington’s birthday in the late 1800s by the Franklin Printing Company.

 

The U.S. proclaimed the February 22nd birthday of the nation’s first President a holiday in 1879.  Washington’s birthday became Presidents Day in Oregon and landed on the third Monday of February in 1971, after the passing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. 

 

However, the federal government never changed the name, and the holiday has 15 separate names in the U.S.  Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, and New York specifically recognize the third Monday in February as “Washington’s Birthday” or “George Washington Day.”  Virginia celebrates Washington’s birthday the entire month, and in the city of Laredo, Texas, an annual Washington Birthday Celebration that began in 1898 lasts the entire month as well.

U.S. Government

Washington’s Birthday is also recognized in another unique fashion.  Starting in 1896, it became a tradition for a current member of the U.S. Senate to read “Washington’s Farewell Address” on February 22nd.  The tradition began as a way of reminding us of a man whose patriotic spirit still inspires us today.

However, today’s Presidents Day celebrates Washington and the birthdate of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) in a fashion so minor that we might not notice it at all were it not for ubiquitous Presidents Day Sales and the closure of federal and state buildings.  It wasn’t always so low-key, however.  

“Washington birthday exercises were held in all departments of our public schools Friday afternoon,” states the February 25, 1892, edition of the Medford Mail. The exercises included presentations from students of all ages ranging from high school student “Jonzy” imitating George Washington to a speech about “Life’s Trials,” presented by second-grader Willie Hoover. What with 76 recitations, songs, and readings, the program would have lasted over two hours.  In 1892, George Washington’s birthday celebration had been a federal holiday for 13 years, a state one for seven.  

“There is no better way,” the Mail editorialized, “of raising the moral standard of our nation than keeping constantly before the mind of boys and girls examples of lives, habits, perseverance, industry, heroic effort and self-denial of the people who have shaped the destinies of the work.”  The story appeared as part of the paper’s weekly “Education” update.  

Abraham Lincoln – 16th President

 

The 1915 Lincoln Day Banquet held in Medford, for example, was a controversial event, stirring up a war of words between the local Jacksonville Post and rival papers, the Medford Sun and the Ashland Tidings.  Seems the crew from J’Ville had issues with the Sun’s coverage of the banquet, titled “Republicans join with Progressives at Lincoln Banquet.”

“Shall the tail wag the dog?” The Post asked on February 13.  “Will the Republicans of Jackson County allow the Medford Sun and a few agitators to dominate the party only to desert it in its time of need?”

The Sun hit back with “broadsides of sarcasm,” explaining that “what we want is the complete and absolute retirement of the Democratic party from national affairs in 1916… with the Jacksonville Post’s permission, of course.” 

“Go to it,” rebutted the Post the following week.  “You have our consent and hope it will not be like your support of the Republican nominees last fall.”

Cornelius C. Beekman

 

One week later, the brawl is absent from the February 27, 1915, edition of the Post.  It could be that the warring factions made peace, or that Jacksonville was distracted by the upcoming March 2 regular city elections. 

It also could’ve been because our town was dealing with something more traumatic: the death of its most prominent citizen, Cornelius C. Beekman.  Beekman died five days before, on February 22 — George Washington’s birthday.  

 

 

 

 


George Washington’s Birthday aka Presidents Day

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