In the late 1870s, Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey proposed the idea of adding Washington’s birth date, February 22, to the four existing bank holidays previously approved in 1870. Signed into law January 31, 1879, by President Rutherford B. Hayes, the law was implemented in 1880 and applied only to District federal workers. Washington’s Birthday had become the first federal holiday to single out an individual’s birth date, and the honor lasted for less than a century.
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill which moved a number of federal holidays to Mondays. With the implementation of the new federal law in 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Law made Washington’s Birthday celebrated on the third Monday in February. Some reformers had wanted to change the name of the holiday as well to Presidents’ Day, in honor of both Lincoln and Washington, but that proposal was rejected by Congress and the holiday remained officially Washington’s Birthday. While the name change has never been authorized by Congress, it has gained a strong hold on the public consciousness to honor all U.S. Presidents, and is generally used on calendars, in advertising, and even by many government agencies.