“Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) was added to the list of holidays to be observed in the District, and in turn by federal employees, in 1888. The joint resolution was probably adopted primarily because a sizable number of federal employees were members of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Civil War veterans who desired to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies honoring those who had died in the conflict. Their absence from work meant the loss of a day’s wages. It was felt they should be “allowed this day as a holiday with pay, so that they might not suffer loss of wages by reason of joining in paying their respects to the memory of those who died in the service of their country.” By 1890, Memorial Day had become a legal holiday in all of the northern states. With the passage of the Monday Holiday Law in 1968, the observance of Memorial Day was permanently changed from May 30 to the last Monday in May….”
Monday Holiday Law
“Congress approved the Monday Holiday Law in June 1968 to “provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and
established a legal public holiday in honor of Christopher Columbus.” Prior to the passage of this legislation, Washington’s Birthday was observed on February 22,
Memorial Day on May 30, and Veterans Day on November 11. The act changed the dates of these holidays to the third Monday in February, last Monday in May, and the fourth Monday in October. The newly created Columbus Day was also designated as a Monday holiday, to be celebrated on the second Monday in October.
By calling for the observance of these four holidays on a Monday, Congress felt there would be “substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the
Nation.” In addition, this legislation was perceived to:
* afford increased opportunities for families to be together, especially those families of which various members were separated by great distances;
* enable Americans to enjoy a wider range of recreational activities, since they would be afforded more time for travel;
* provide increased opportunities for pilgrimages to the historic sites connected with our holidays, thereby increasing participation in commemoration of
* afford greater opportunity for leisure at home so that Americans would be able to enjoy fuller participation in hobbies as well as educational and cultural
* stimulate greater industrial and commercial production by reducing employee absenteeism and enabling workweeks to be free from interruptions in the form of midweek holidays.
It was clear, the House Judiciary Committee argued in its April 1968 report on the Monday Holiday bill, that the proposal was “responsive to the needs and desires
of a great majority” of Americans. Support for the proposal was expressed by such major business groups as the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Travel Organizations, and National Retail Federation. There was also substantial support from the labor community, expressed by such organizations as the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO Government Employees Council, International
Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Association of Letter Carriers.
In addition, the Department of Labor, the Bureau of the Budget, the Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Civil Service Commission all endorsed the idea. Public
opinion polls conducted in connection with the proposal indicated that “almost 93 percent of the persons polled supported the concept of uniform Monday holiday
legislation, while a little more than 7 percent were opposed.”
Neither this act, nor any subsequent action by Congress or the President, mandated that the name of the holiday observed by federal employees in February be
changed from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day.””
Excerpted from Stephen W. Stathis (1999)Federal Holiday: Evolution and Application. CRS Report for Congress