The Mother of Father’s Day

The Mother of Father’s Day

The spring of 1898 was not a happy one for Sonora Louise Smart. Her mother died in March, leaving her and five younger brothers motherless. Sonora must have wondered how they would manage with no mother to look after them, but she had no need to worry.

Billy Smart, her father, believed that fatherhood was a lifelong responsibility, and he didn’t take that responsibility lightly. After his wife’s funeral, Billy quickly assumed the duties of both father and mother to his six children. Sonora in later years described him as a “good home person” and a “Golden Rule type of father.” Billy Smart was a strict man, but he was also a loving father, who kept his children happy and together.

Sonora loved her father and recognized and admired his sacrifices to raise her and her brothers by himself. Her love and appreciation for her father inspired a tribute to him that eventually became a national holiday to honor all fathers.

Eleven years after her mother’s death, Sonora (now married to John Bruce Dodd) sat in church listening to a Mother’s Day message. It was a wonderful talk about the role of mothers, but she noticed that the word father was never mentioned. When Sonora thought of the sacrifices that her father had made, she felt that it was only fair that fathers be recognized in a like manner. After the meeting she approached the speaker and asked, “Don’t you think that fathers should have a special day of recognition too?” With that question, Sonora Dodd began gaining support for her Father’s Day idea.

The following year Sonora, supported by local church leaders, submitted a petition to the Spokane City Council. As a result, the mayor declared that the third Sunday in June would be observed as Father’s Day. Following Spokane’s lead, the governor of Washington made it a state holiday, and June 19, 1910, it became the first official Father’s Day in history.

Even though a day to recognize fathers had been declared, Sonora Dodd did not feel that her work was done. That first Father’s Day she and her infant son, Jack, traveled by carriage to deliver gifts to shut-in fathers in Spokane.

Mrs. Dodd next sought support from national politicians for recognition of Father’s Day. She wanted a designated day when people across the nation would be reminded of a father’s proper role in the training of children, in the safeguarding of the marriage tie, and in the protection of womanhood and childhood. And while her efforts to honor fathers were successful and Father’s Day was celebrated in many areas in the United States, it wasn’t until 1972 that the holiday was established by a congressional resolution.

Sonora Dodd devoted her life to honoring fathers, and her strong feelings about fatherhood were passed to her son, Jack. In 1952 one of Sonora Dodd’s proudest moments came when Jack was named “Father of the Year.” Nineteen years later, an even prouder moment came. Sonora Louise Dodd, the woman known as “the mother of Father’s Day,” became the first and only woman ever to be named “Father of the Year!”

In 1978 Sonora died just a few weeks before the sixty-ninth Father’s Day. This June 15, on the seventy-sixth anniversary of Father’s Day, her name will seldom be mentioned in connection with the day. But that’s the way she wanted it. She never wanted acclaim for her contribution toward the establishment of Father’s Day. As she often said, “Father’s Day is to glorify fatherhood and not to glorify me.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Dick Brown