The national day honoring dads was started by a woman who was raised by a widower. Sonora Smart Dodd’s father, William Smart, raised her and five brothers after their mother died during childbirth.
While listening to a Mother’s Day sermon with her father at the Central Methodist Church in 1909, Dodd was bothered that there wasn’t a day to honor her civil war veteran father who raised her and five younger brothers alone.
The YMCA of Spokane, Washington, and the Ministerial Alliance endorsed Dodd’s idea of Father’s Day and held a celebration in 1910. Dodd wanted the celebration to be held on June 5, her father’s birthday, but planning difficulties pushed the first Father’s Day celebration to Sunday, June 19, 1910.
As Dodd’s idea gained momentum across the country, two National Father’s Day committees were formed, one in Virginia in 1921 and one in New York City in 1936.
President Woodrow Wilson sanctioned the idea of celebrating Father’s Day in 1913 and visited Spokane to join the celebration in 1916. President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea in 1924, as well. In 1957, U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine introduced a bill to create a federally proclaimed day writing:
“”Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable.
President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day in 1966. President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of the day in 1972.
Sonora Smart Dodd is recognized as the founder of father’s day. Some reports claimed a Father’s Day celebration was held in West Virginia in 1908, the same year Mother’s Day was founded, but Spokesman-Review reported Dodd was the most “influential promoter of Father’s Day.”
The mother of Father’s Day was a well-known poet, scribe and sculptor. Dodd wrote and illustrated a series of children’s books about the Native Americans of Spokane called “Children of the Sun,” which is a rough translation of “Spokane.” She studied sculpture and ceramics at the Chicago Art Institute and later taught at the school. She also became a well-known regional poet and her poem for peace was read at the United Nations.
She married Spokane businessman John Bruce Dodd and had one son, John “Jack” Bruce Dodd, Jr. In 1937, she became a part owner of the Ball & Dodd Funeral Home in Spokane where she worked as the vice president for 30 years.
In 1948, a bronze memorial plaque was installed at the Spokane YMCA honoring Dodd. The Dodd family home earned a slot on the National Register of Historic Places after in 2010 on the centennial of Spokane’s first Father’s Day celebration. Although it is a private residence, it can be viewed as part of Historic Spokane’s “East Central Heritage” tour.
Dodd’s grave at Greenwood Cemetery in Spokane reads:
Sonora Smart Dodd
Founder of Father's Day