The idea for an official Fathers
Day celebration came to a married daughter, seated in a church in Spokane, Washington,
attentive to a Sunday sermon on Mothers Day in 1910-two years after the first
Mothers Day observance in West Virginia.
The daughter was Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd.
During the sermon, which extolled maternal sacrifices made for children, Mrs. Dodd
realized that in her own family it had been her father, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War
veteran, who had sacrificed-raising herself and five sons alone, following the early death
of his wife in childbirth. For Mrs. Dodd, the hardships her father had endured on their
eastern Washington farm called to mind the unsung feats of fathers everywhere.
Her proposed local Fathers Day celebration received strong support from the
towns ministers and members of the Spokane YMCA. The date suggested for the
festivities, June 5, Mrs. Dodds fathers birthdays were three weeks away-had to
be moved back to the nineteenth when ministers claimed they need extra time to prepare
sermons on such a new subject as Father.
Newspapers across the country, already endorsing the need for a national Mothers
Day, carried stories about the unique Spokane observance. Interest in Fathers Day
increased. Among the first notables to support Mrs. Dodds idea nationally was the
orator and political leader William Jennings Bryan, who also backed Mothers Day.
Believing that fathers must not be slighted, he wrote to Mrs. Dodd, "too much
emphasis cannot be placed upon the relation between parent and child."
Fathers Day, however, was not so quickly accepted as Mothers Day. Members
of the all-male Congress felt that a move to proclaim the day official might be
interpreted as a self-congratulatory pat on the back.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson and his family personally observed the day. And in
1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended that states, if they wished, should hold their
own Fathers Day observances. He wrote to the nations governors that "the
widespread observance of this occasion is calculated to establish more intimate relations
between fathers and their children, and also to impress upon fathers the full measure of
Many people attempted to secure official recognition for Fathers Day. One of the
most notable efforts was made in 1957, by Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who wrote
forcefully to Congress that "Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or
let us desist from honoring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and
omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable."
Eventually, in 1972-sixty-two years after it was proposed-Fathers Day was
permanently established by President Richard Nixon. Historians seeking an ancient
precedent for an official Fathers Day observance have come up with only one: The
Romans, every February, honored fathers-but only those deceased.
In America today, Fathers Day is the fifth-largest card-sending occasion, with
about 85 million greeting cards exchanged.