While there is a discrepancy over who was actually the originator of the holiday, both people who are credited with the earliest Father’s Day celebrations were women. While some feel that the first Father’s Day observance was planned by Mrs. Charles Clayton of West Virginia in 1908, popular opinion credits Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Washington with the idea.
Sonora Smart Dodd had lost her mother during the birth of her sixth child. For twenty-one years her father, William Jackson Smart, raised his six children on his own, making all the parental sacrifices that come with raising a family. To Sonora, her father was the perfect example of a selfless, loving, courageous man.
In 1909, while listening intently to a Mother’s Day sermon extolling the virtues of motherhood, Sonora longed for a way to honor her father for all he had done for her and her siblings. It is then that she came up with the idea of holding a Father’s Day celebration to honor fathers everywhere.
Mrs. Dodd was able to gain support for a local Father’s Day celebration from the town’s ministers and members of the local Y.M.C.A. The date suggested for the first Father’s Day was June 5, 1910, William Smart’s birthday. However, because of the time needed to prepare for the celebration, the date of the first Father’s Day celebration was moved to June 19, the third Sunday in June. The rose was selected as the flower to be worn in Father’s Day celebrations; the red rose for those whose father was living and the white rose for those whose father had passed away.
Newspapers across the country that were endorsing Mother’s Day carried stories of the Father’s Day observance in Spokane. Interest in Father’s Day increased and local observances popped up across the nation. The state of Washington made Father’s Day an official holiday that same year.
Though the holiday was popular as a local celebration in many communities, it wasn’t readily accepted nationally. In 1912, J.H. Berringer, of Washington conducted a Father’s Day service, choosing to wear a white lilac as the Father’s Day flower. In 1915, Henry Meek, president of the Lions Club of Chicago also began promoting Father’s Day celebrations. He gave several speeches around the United States supporting Father’s Day and in 1920 the Lions Clubs of America presented him with a gold watch with the inscription “Originator of Father’s Day”.
Many famous people supported Father’s Day and attempted to secure official recognition for the holiday including William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge. In 1916 President Wilson observed the holiday with his own family and in 1924 President Coolidge gave his support to states wishing to hold their own Father’s Day observances believing that widespread observance of the holiday would draw families closer together. In 1957 Senator Margaret Chase Smith lobbied Congress for a national Father’s Day, but it wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father’s Day. In 1972, President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father’s Day to be held on the 3rd Sunday of June.
Today, Father’s Day is celebrated across the globe. While it is not as widely celebrated as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is the fifth-largest card-sending occasion in America, with over 85 million greeting cards exchanged.
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Patricia Chadwick is a freelance writer and has been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. She is currently a columnist in several online publications as well as editor of two newsletters. Parents & Teens is a twice-monthly newsletter geared to help parents connect with their teens. Subscribe at www.parentsandteens.com. History’s Women is weekly online magazine highlighting the extraordinary achievements of women. Subscribe at www.historyswomen.com/subscribe.html.