I was today many years old when I learned why Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays were lumped together to make President’s Day. I always remember knowing it was to make a three-day weekend to give federal workers more time off, but I didn’t know until today that is was part of the 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
The Act, initially proposed by labor unions and the travel industry, also affected Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Columbus Day. It originally included Veteran’s Day, but veteran’s groups lobbied that their day should remain on November 11th, which is also Armistice Day, regardless of the day of the week, and that’s why that holiday remains a floating one.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established in 1983 it was the first holiday to be created after the Uniform Holiday Act, and thus was not on his actual birthday of January 15th, but the third Monday in January instead.
Although the Act doesn’t officially call the third Monday in February as “President’s Day,” because so many states were celebrating both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, a date as close to the middle between them was selected.
Even though four chief executives: George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan were born in February, it is impossible for their birthday to coincide with President’s Day. Their birthdays are either too early or too late in the month for this to work out.
So, for every banker and government worker who enjoys the three-day weekend, there is a school child who’s missing out on having two days off in February and now only gets one. However, most kids who were in school in 1971 surely must have graduated by now.