Father’s Day began in 1910; Nixon made it official in ‘72

Published 1:47 am Saturday, June 8, 2019

Father’s Day. Did you ever wonder how it got started?

In searching for its origin, I found accounts of two women who had the idea in the United States, Grace Golden Clayton of West Virginia and Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington.

In 1908 Grace Golden Clayton asked her minister to conduct a special Father’s Day service honoring 361 men who died in a nearby mine explosion. Two hundred and fifty of them were fathers.

One Sunday the minister of Sonora Smart Dodd’s church in Spokane, Washington delivered a stirring Mother’s Day sermon. Touched by his words, it occurred to her that there was no similar recognition for fathers. She remembered the attention and loving care her own father, a Civil War veteran, had given her and her siblings. She wondered why fathers were not equally recognized.

When Sonora was 16 her mother had died giving birth to her sixth child. She was well aware of her father’s devotion to raising his six children alone on a farm in rural Washington State. She decided to establish her own Father’s Day on his birthday, June 5, to let him know how special he was to her. Sonora’s aim was to bring attention to the father’s role in a child’s life.

She wanted official recognition of Father’s Day for all fathers. She approached the Spokane Ministerial Association and the Young Men’s Christian Association with a request that they pass a resolution to support Father’s Day. They were agreeable, but delayed it until June 19 because it could not be passed on June 5 of that year.

On June 19, 1910, Sonora’s Father’s Day was observed in Spokane, but it did not turn out to be a proper holiday she hoped for like Mother’s Day. Many people mocked and made jokes about it. However, media coverage of her city’s unique event spurred interest.

Politician William Jennings supported it. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson approved it as an official event. As time passed, Sonora’s idea of honoring fathers continued to draw support. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. In 1926, a National Father’s Day Committee met in New York City. A Joint Resolution of Congress recognized it as official. President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation in 1966, designating the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day.

Despite all those actions by presidents and politicians, it was not until 1972 that it was officially made a permanent national occasion by President Richard Nixon

Sonora did not rest on her laurels during the time her campaign for an official Father’s Day progressed. She wrote children’s books about Native Americans of Spokane. She studied at Art Institute of Chicago and her artwork also kept her busy. She was 96 when she died in 1978. She had lived to see her Father’s Day dream come true. A Sonora Louise Smart Dodd monument stands at the YMCA in Spokane.

Now we know. Father’s Day: The third Sunday in June, a time to honor our living fathers and remember those who are no longer with us.

Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter. She can be reached at nina.keenam@mediacombb.net.