The Origins of Father's Day

11 June 2014

Father’s Day has been celebrated for over a hundred years, and it is a Spokane, Washington woman who is credited with being the founder of the annual celebration. Sonora Smart Dodd, often referred to as the “Mother of Father’s Day,” was 16 years old when her mother died in 1898, leaving her father, William Jackson Smart, to raise Sonora and her five younger brothers on a remote farm in Eastern Washington.

In 1909 when Sonora heard a Mother’s Day sermon at Central United Methodist Church in Spokane, she was inspired to propose that fathers receive equal recognition.

The following year, with the assistance of her pastor, Sonora took the idea to the Spokane YMCA. The Y, along with the Ministerial Alliance, endorsed Dodd’s idea and helped it spread by celebrating the first Father’s Day in 1910. Sonora suggested her father’s birthday, June 5th, be established as the day to honor all fathers. However, the pastors wanted more time to prepare, so June 19, 1910 was designated as the first Father’s Day and sermons honoring Father’s were presented throughout the city.

It was years, however, before Father’s Day gained national prominence. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge recognized Father’s Day and urged the states to do likewise. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation calling for the third Sunday in June to be recognized as Father’s Day. And President Richard M. Nixon signed a proclamation in 1972, permanently observing Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June.

Sonora’s pivotal role in the creation of a national Father’s Day celebration was recognized in 1943 at a luncheon in her honor in New York City at the Billion Dollar Bond Drive, at a celebration by the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day at the 1940 New York World’s Fair and at the 1974 World’s Fair Expo in Spokane. A plaque dedicated in 1948 honoring Sonora Dodd’s efforts rests on a granite boulder outside the Central Spokane YMCA commemorating the YMCA’s role in the first celebration of Father’s Day.

Today Father’s Day is celebrated in over 50 countries around the world. Happy Father’s Day!