How One Woman’s Desire to Honor Her Single Dad Became an International Holiday to Celebrate Fatherhood

Sonora Smart Dodd

EVERY YEAR, ON the third Sunday in June, Americans take time to honor fathers and their role in the family and community.

Although 76 percent of Americans plan to celebrate their fathers this year, few know about the woman who launched a 62-year campaign to establish the day as a federal holiday.

The mother of Father’s Day

When Sonora Louise Smart Dodd was 16 years old, her father became a widower and was left to raise Dodd and her five younger brothers alone. In 1909, Dodd was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon when she realized the need for a day to celebrate fathers, especially her own.

Inspired, Dodd drew up a petition for the first Father’s Day, which she argued should be celebrated on her father’s birthday in early June. Even though the petition only earned two signatures, Dodd convinced several local church communities to participate—on the condition she push the date to late June to give them more time to prepare. The resulting celebration, in Spokane, Washington, kicked off Dodd’s nearly life-long mission of promoting Father’s Day for national status. Over the next half-century, Dodd would travel the United States, speaking on behalf of Father’s Day and campaigning for the cause.

Although Mother’s Day was declared a national holiday in 1914, Father’s Day wasn’t nationally recognized until 1972. Throughout the years, Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Lyndon B. Johnson all wrote in favor of the holiday, but none passed legislation ratifying the holiday during their term. In 1970, Congress finally passed Joint Resolution 187, which called on citizens to “offer public and private expressions of such day to the abiding love and gratitude which they bear for their fathers.” President Richard Nixon signed the resolution into law two years later.

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SOURCE: National Geographic, Sydney Combs