Sen. Steven Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas was the first to propose the federal holiday, and in 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. Initially, the holiday, called “Washington’s Birthday,” only applied to the District of Columbia. But in 1885, the celebration expanded to include the entire country.
Over the years, some states adopted the holiday to celebrate either Washington or former presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
The day is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” but it became popularly known as Presidents Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to help the nation’s workers enjoy more three-day weekends.
It was the first holiday to celebrate the life of an individual American. The next would be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which was signed into law in 1983.
Today, Presidents Day is considered a day to celebrate all American presidents, past and present. Around the country, patriotic and historical groups hold events and celebrations and schools often teach students about the accomplishments of American presidents.
In 2017, however, thousands of protesters across the country used their Monday off to protest President Donald Trump in “Not My Presidents Day” rallies. In 2019, some groups planned rallies against Trump’s emergency declaration aimed at securing funds for a wall along the border with Mexico.