Origin of Father's Day
In 1910, just two years after the first Mother’s Day observance in West Virginia, Sonora Smart Dodd came up with the idea for an official Father’s Day celebration. During a church sermon in Spokane, WA, she heard praises for sacrifices mothers make for their children. As Sonora listened, she remembered the sacrifices her father, William Jackson Smart had made for his family. Mr. Smart had been a Civil War veteran and raised his daughter and five sons alone, after his wife died in childbirth. For Sonora Dodd, the hardships her father had endured on their eastern Washington farm called to mind the unsung feats of fathers everywhere.
Her proposed local Father’s Day celebration received strong support from the town's congregations. The original date suggested for the festivities was June 5, Mr. Smart's birthday. But being only three weeks away from Mother's Day, it was decided the nineteenth would be better, so the ministers would have time to prepare sermons for the event.
Newspapers across the country, already endorsing the need for a national Mother’s Day, carried stories about the unique Spokane observance. Interest in Father’s Day increased. Among the first notables to support Mrs. Dodd’s idea nationally was the orator and political leader William Jennings Bryan, who also backed Mother’s 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."
Father’s Day, however, was not so quickly accepted as Mother’s 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 Father’s Day observances."
He wrote to the nation’s 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 their obligations."
Many people attempted to secure official recognition for Father’s 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-Father’s Day was permanently established by President Richard Nixon. Historians seeking an ancient precedent for an official Father’s Day observance have come up with only one. The Romans, every February, honored fathers-but only those deceased.
In America today, Father’s Day is the fifth-largest card-sending occasion, with about 85 million greeting cards exchanged.