Yes, A Woman Created Father’s Day!

Father’s Day is June 19, and the hype is underway!  Ads are popping up on traditional and social media, encouraging everyone to find the perfect gift for your perfect Father!  I just received an email prompt to purchase a dad’s holiday in Croatia for my husband.  Whatever happened to crazy ties and comfy socks?

There are so many reminders and suggestions about Father’s Day gifts and gadgets.  Who could possibly forget that Father’s Day is approaching?

But time out!  Let’s consider the impact a mother-in-law had on creating Father’s Day.  The national holiday exists thanks to Sonora Smart Dodd, a passionate daughter, wife, mother — and eventually yes, a mother-in-law.  In addition, she was a student, artist, author, businesswoman and social advocate.

Sonora Smart Dodd
Photo courtesy of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. Sonora Smart Dodd created Father’s Day.

Dodd was 16 and grief-stricken when her mother, Ellen, died in childbirth.  Dodd overcame her tragic loss and focused her energies on her family — on helping her father and five younger brothers, including a newborn.  At that time in history, many fathers faced with similar circumstances had sent their youngest children away to live with relatives.  Instead, William Smart kept his family intact. Dodd’s love and respect for her dad became the rock-solid foundation for establishing Father’s Day.

Her inspiration blossomed in July 1909, when her minister delivered an impassioned Mother’s Day sermon, more than a year after the first Mother’s Day was celebrated on May 10, 1908.  Dodd decided to advocate for a similar holiday honoring her father and all fathers.  By that time, she was a 27-year-old wife with an infant son.  Despite her youth, Dodd had a seasoned perspective on her father and his challenges as a single parent. She relentlessly championed her Father’s Day effort for more than a year, hoping it would be celebrated on her father’s June 5 birthday.  Finally, local clergy agreed to deliver the first Father’s Day sermon on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington.

Could Dodd have predicted, so early on, that she would spend much of her lifetime spearheading a Father’s Day movement? Controversy and political maneuvering related to Dodd’s efforts and Father’s Day continued for more than half a century.  A movement in the 1920’s and 30’s even proposed scrapping both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a Parents Day.  Who could have guessed that Dodd would have to wait until 1972 when President Nixon officially established Father’s Day as a permanent national holiday to be celebrated each third Sunday of June?

Dodd died in 1978, at age 96, knowing she had accomplished her lifetime goal of honoring fathers.  Sonora Smart Dodd was quite the woman.  She was also a mother-in-law, like many of us.  She passed on a powerful message about the persistence and resilience of love — a much more enduring gift than socks, neckties and trendy technology on Father’s Day!

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