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Father's Day - The Inspiration of Sonora Smart Dodd

The first Mother’s Day celebration took place in 1908 and it would only seem natural that a day should then be created to celebrate fathers. That was the inspiration for Sonora Smart Dodd.

Sonora was born February 18, 1882 in Arkansas. At the age of five her family moved to Spokane, Washington where she resided until her death in 1978. In 1899 she married John Bruce Dodd and had a son, Jack, born in 1909. Upon hearing a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909 Sonora decided there should be a day to honor fathers too. Her own father, Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart (1842-1919), was a single parent (twice widowed) who raised her and her 5 siblings after the death of his second wife.

Spokane Press, June 6, 1910

Spokane Press, June 16, 1910

"The object of this day, she says, is to bring other(sic) father and child, and to give to the head of the house and the earner of the daily bread for his brood all the respect and honor due instill the same love and reverence for the father as is the mother's portion." (Spokane Press, June 6, 1910) Much like the thought behind Mother’s Day, she wanted the Father’s Day celebration date to have a significant meaning, her father’s birthday of June 5th. She discussed the issue with her local minister who wanted more time to prepare for such a day. After gaining community support Fathers’ Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910 in Spokane at the YMCA. While white carnations became the symbol of Mother’s Day the rose became the symbol for Father’s Day. A colored rose was worn for a living father and a white rose representing the deceased. The holiday grew in national popularity due to the promotion by Mrs. Dodd and it became her lifetime commitment.

Long Island Traveler, November 28, 1924

The May 25, 1923 issue of The County Review states “Sunday being Fathers’ Day, red carnations were presented to the fathers in the [Center Moriches] Presbyterian church on Sunday evening.”

Port Jefferson Echo, June 5, 1930

As with Mother’s Day, there was concern commercialization of the holiday would overtake the sentiment and meaning intended for the day. In the 1930s support from the manufacturers of ties, tobacco, pipes, etc. got involved in the promotion of the day. The Father's Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers worked to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion of the day. (Wikipedia)

"When World War II began, advertisers began to argue that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort. By the end of the war, Father’s Day may not have been a federal holiday, but it was a national institution."

It wasn't until 1972 that Father's Day became a federal holiday.

On the 100th anniversary of the founding of Father’s Day Senator Patty Murray of Washington State introduced resolution 556 recognizing the important role that fathers play in the lives of their children and families and designating 2010 as "The Year of the Father".


1910 Father’s Day ceremony Spokane, Washington

1913 congressional bill introduced to recognize the holiday

1916 President Woodrow Wilson spoke at Spokane Father’s Day event

1924 President Calvin Coolidge called for the nation to observe Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June and encouraged states to do the same.

1956 Congress officially recognized Father’s Day

1966 President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation proclaiming the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.

1972 President Richard Nixon declared Father’s Day a federal holiday.

A Mining Tragedy

Some people date the origin of Father’s Day back to 1908. On July 5, 1908, a memorial service was held at Fairmont, West Virginia for the victims of a mining accident in nearby Monongah during the previous year. The tragedy killed 361 men (250 fathers) leaving around 1000 children fatherless. Grace Golden Clayton, a member of a local church, picked this date to honor those fathers and the recent loss of her own father. The first Mother’s Day celebration in nearby Grafton, West Virginia having taken place just two months earlier may have served as the inspiration. This event never evolved further than this local tribute.

Links to sources and further reading

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