Only 104 years old, Father’s Day was started by Miss Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane in America.
Sonora had been listening to a church sermon delivered by Ms Anna Jarvis in May 1909. Jarvis had been promoting Mother’s Day (which she’d begun in 1908), and Sonora decided she wanted to do something just as special for her dad, William Jackson Smart. He was a Civil War veteran who’d raised her and her five brothers and sisters on his own, after her mother died in childbirth.
In 1910 Sonora petitioned the Spokane authorities for the 5th June (her dad’s birthday), to become a holiday that could be recognised as Father’s Day. The Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) supported her idea, but more time was needed to sort out the festivities, so the final date for this first, locally held, Father’s Day didn’t take place until 19th June 1910.
This initial celebration, in Spokane, was marked by young women handing out red roses to their dad’s during a church service, while wearing red and white roses on their clothes. The red roses were a symbol of remembrance for those fathers who lived, and the white in memory of those who’d died.
It took a very long time for the American Congress to adopt Father’s Day as a national holiday. Thanks to Sonora’s persistence however, year after year, Father’s Day steadily gained popularity.
In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea of Father’s Day in order to establish closer relationships between fathers and their children. The holiday gained even more momentum in 1938, when the men’s clothing retailers in New York City took up the cause, and formed the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day. Then, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day.
However, it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father’s Day.
It took Sonora Smart Dodd 63 years to see her dream of a dedicated day to celebrate the role of father’s within the family come true. In 1974, four years before her death at the age of 96, she was honoured for her contribution at the World’s Fair in her native Spokane.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.