- 2015 Session
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By Margaret Dayton
Utah State Senator, District 15
Utah does not have a Presidents Day.
Many of us in the Senate are old enough to remember having President George Washington’ birthday and Presidents Abraham Lincoln’s birthday as school holidays. For over 100 years, the birthdays of these two revered presidents were remembered with federal holidays and celebrations in their honor. How appropriate that was!
In the 1970’s however, a new federal holiday was created in January that was called Civil Rights Day. The creation of Civil Rights Day required that the states combine any two other holidays to accommodate a new federal holiday. The several states chose to combine President Washington’s and President Lincoln’s birthday in to one holiday. Each state was then allowed to name the new holidays in January and February.
A majority of states choose to eventually change the name of Civil Rights Day in January to Martin Luther King Day. Utah followed that plan in the late 90s.
Back then, I was a member of the Legislature then serving as a member of the House of Representatives. When the change from Civil Rights Day to Martin Luther King Day was made, I amended the bill to also change the name of Presidents Day to Washington and Lincoln Day. It was already obvious that in a few short years, most people had forgotten what Presidents Day represented. It was my great desire that, in creating this name change, our Utah citizens would appropriately focus on the Presidents whose birthdays we had originally honored.
It is a disappointment to me that so many references are still made to our February holiday as ‘Presidents Day.’ Even more disappointing, however, is the fact that so few people seem to know what so-called Presidents Day is about. When I visit the schools, and ask the students what the holiday is about, some think it is about remembering all U.S. Presidents. Even more surprising to me are the numbers of students who think it is a day to honor all presidents of any organization.
I am pleased that a number of state agencies correctly list the holiday on their calendars as Washington and Lincoln Day ~ and I will continue on my crusade to correctly acknowledge our February Washington and Lincoln Day and remember these great men who, at crucial junctures in our nation’s history, played essential roles in saving the United States of America.