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Meet Sonora Dodd, The Woman Who Started Father’s Day

Father’s Day was started by a woman who was raised by a single dad. Sonora Dodd was born in 1882 and raised by William J. Smart, along with her five brothers. Tragically, their mother died in childbirth when Sonora Dodd was only 16-years-old.

When Sonora Dodd was 28, she attended a Mother’s Day sermon at her church. It was then that she questioned why there was no similar holiday for fathers.

“I began thinking of my mother, who passed away in 1898 while I was yet a child. My thoughts naturally turned to my father, William J. Smart, who was left with the responsibility of rearing six children.”

Sonora Dodd was the woman who pioneered Father’s Day. Her petition was well-received by the city of Spokane, Washington and they celebrated their first Father’s Day in 1910. The tradition was to hand out a red rose for living fathers, a white rose for those who had passed, and to enjoy a family dinner. Dodd had an infant son at this time and spent her first Father’s Day delivering flowers and gifts to the needy. Her father, a civil war veteran, was also alive to see the festivities. He died years later, in 1919.

The popularity of Father’s Day caught on quick. The governor of Washington declared it a statewide holiday, and in 1916 the President came to visit the town and observe the festivities. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended that Father’s Day be celebrated in every state. Although it took until 1972 for Richard Nixon to designate the third Sunday in June as the official date for Father’s Day, it was celebrated across the country before then.

Sonora Dodd, the Mother of Father’s Day. [Image by Nicholas K. Geranios/AP Images]

At one point as the tradition grew in popularity, Chicago tried to name itself as the city where Father’s Day originated. But the Spokane newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, was quick to correct them and claim their rightful historic place as the originator of the Father’s Day tradition under Sonora Dodd’s direction.

Sonora Dodd’s tombstone reads “Founder of Father’s Day, 1882-1978.” [Image by Jeff T. Green/AP Images]

Sonora Dodd lived a long life. She died in 1978, when she was 96. She had been an artist, a poet, and a businesswoman. But her most famous accomplishment will always be as the “mother” of Father’s Day.

[Featured Image by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]

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