How Washington’s Birthday became Presidents’ Day

(WSPA) — It’s Presidents’ Day, but you may not know how the holiday came to be. George Washington’s birthday became a national holiday in 1885, after states celebrated it on their own for decades. The holiday was on Washington’s actual birthday, Feb. 22. But in the late 1960s, Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act,” which put federal holidays on pre-determined Mondays so workers would have three-day weekends. The act took effect in 1971.

That law moved Washington’s birthday holiday from Feb. 22 to the third Monday in February. The original bill included adding Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but after objections from lawmakers from Virginia, Washington’s home state, that was dropped from the bill. However, a lot of people still assume that “Presidents’ Day” was created to honor the two. Cameron Starr of Savannah, visiting the South Carolina Statehouse Monday, says, “I’ve always been told it’s to celebrate Lincoln and George Washington because they have the birthdays in the same month of February. So they kind of honored them and, I guess, other presidents by putting it on the month with the two very important presidents’ birthdays in it.”

According to the National Archives, “Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to ‘President’s Day.’”

History.com says marketers started calling it Presidents’ Day after the law moved its date, and it had caught on by the mid-1980s. Many states do call it Presidents’ Day on their calendars.

South Carolina has a couple of connections to the White House. Andrew Jackson, the 7th president, was born in South Carolina, in what was known as the Waxhaws region in Lancaster County near the North Carolina border. The border had not been surveyed at the time and North Carolina also claims to be his birthplace, but Jackson himself said he was born in South Carolina.

Andrew Johnson, who became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, lived in Laurens, SC and worked as a tailor in a shop on the town square in 1824.

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, lived in Columbia, SC as a boy, from the ages of 14 to 18. His family’s home is now a museum.

The state’s other connection is that when state lawmakers planned the new capital city in the center of the state, they narrowed down its name to two possibilities: Columbia and Washington.

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