How Did Father’s Day Become a Holiday?

In 1914, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national holiday. But it would take more than half a century for fathers to get the same honor.

Sonora Smart Dodd was inspired to create Father’s Day to honor her own dad, who raised her after her mother died.
Sonora Smart Dodd was inspired to create Father’s Day to honor her own dad, who raised her after her mother died.

The push for dads to get their own day began in 1909, after Sonora Smart Dodd listened to her Methodist pastor celebrate mothers in a Sunday sermon. When Sonora was 16, her mother died while giving birth to her sixth child, so Sonora and her father, Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, had to raise the younger children by themselves.

Wanting to recognize the admirable efforts of her father and others like him, Dodd circulated petitions around her hometown of Spokane, Washington, and got local approval from groups like the YMCA. But while the idea gradually found national support in the years that followed, fathers had to wait until 1972 for President Richard Nixon to make the third Sunday in June an official holiday.

More about Sonora Smart Dodd:

  • Dodd, known as the most “influential promoter of Father’s Day,” later studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and grew up to be a nationally known poet, painter, sculptor and fashion designer in Hollywood.

  • Sonora Smart later married Spokane businessman John Bruce Dodd and moved back home. In 1937, she became a part owner of the Ball & Dodd Funeral Home, where she served as vice president for 30 years.

  • Sonora Smart Dodd lived well into the 1970s, and was alive long enough to see her idea come to fruition. She also led efforts in Spokane to start a Poetry Day and an Old Age Day.

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    • Sonora Smart Dodd was inspired to create Father’s Day to honor her own dad, who raised her after her mother died.
      Sonora Smart Dodd was inspired to create Father’s Day to honor her own dad, who raised her after her mother died.