Grateful daughter sparks first Father’s Day

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

Last month’s article focused on the history of Mother’s Day and how it was founded in 1905 by Anna Jarvis. The recognition of Father’s Day grew out of the celebration of Mother’s Day.

The first observance of Father’s Day occurred on July 5, 1908 in West Virginia (the same state that held the first Mother’s Day) at the Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont.

One year later, in 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd of Washington state was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon and became inspired to hold a special day for fathers. Dodd would become a vocal proponent for the holiday and is often given credit as the founder of Father’s Day.

Sonora was the fifth child born to William and Ellen (Cheek) Smart of Arkansas. William Smart served in the Civil War and at the end of the war, relocated his family to Washington state. While giving birth to her sixth child, Ellen Smart died. William Smart, Sonora’s father, was left to raise their five children, including his newborn son.

After Sonora became an adult, she married John Dodd and had a son in 1909. It wasn’t until Sonora had her own family that she realized the sacrifices her father, a single parent, had made for the family. Sonora was moved by the popularity of various Mother’s Day celebrations and wanted to acknowledge and publically commend not only her father, but all fathers with a special day. She contacted her local church to begin planning a celebration with the support and endorsement from her local YMCA and the Spokane Minister’s Alliance. Sonora’s father’s birthday was in June, so she chose that month the time to celebrate Father’s Day.

As carnations were the chosen flowers to be given to mothers on Mother’s Day, roses became the symbol of Father’s Day. Red roses were given to fathers who were still alive, and white roses were for fathers that had passed away.

As the regional celebrations of Father’s Day were gaining in momentum, various organizations began to lobby Congress to declare an official day set aside to honor fathers. While President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea of a national Father’s Day in 1924 to "establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations," it wasn’t until 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation officially declaring the third Sunday as June Father’s Day.

Sonora Smart Dodd was honored at the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane, Washington. She died a few years later in 1978 and is buried in Spokane.