Moms have Mother’s Day, grandparents even have Grandparents’ Day, so of course it follows that dads get their very own special celebration day as well. But how did the Father’s Day tradition start and why? And how did Americans first start to celebrate dads? With Father’s Day right around the corner, we’re flipping through the history books and learning the origins of this wonderful day with special significance for dads. Read on to get into the Father’s Day spirit.
Everyone recognizes Mother’s Day in the US as the second Sunday in May and, perhaps not surprisingly, Mother’s Day was the first holiday to appear in celebration of parents. First championed by pacifists in the 1870s, Mother’s Day as we know it today was in fact created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and served as immediate inspiration for the creation of the first Father’s Day celebration.
The mother of the Father’s Day celebration in the US? Sonora Dodd who was motivated to petition for the holiday after sitting in a church service listening to a minister praise the new Mother’s Day holiday. The year was 1909, the place was the Centenary Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington and Sonora was 28. Sonora, who was born in Arkansas, had lost her mother as a teenager and so had a lot of fond childhood and teenage memories of her father raising her. And no wonder, because following Sonora’s mother’s death, Dodd’s father, William Smart, raised six children.
Not long after the church service, Dodd approached the pastor with her idea to petition for a similar Father’s Day holiday, and, as a result she and pastor Dr. Conrad Bluhm of the Centenary Church sat down to write the original Father’s Day resolution. Approved by the Spokane Ministerial Alliance meeting in June 1910, Dodd then approached the city of Spokane to have the holiday inaugurated. Her first intention was to hold the holiday on June 5, which was her Father’s birthday. However, local pastors did not feel able to coordinate their sermons in time for this date and so the new holiday was postponed until the end of June.
And so it was that by mayoral proclamation, that the very first Father’s Day took place on June 19, 1910 in Spokane. According to Dodd herself, the celebration that was initially intended as a church-led celebration, was first held at the Centenary Presbyterian Church. Pastor Bluhm, who had assisted her petition, read a sermon and each and every father in the congregation was presented with a red rose.
For several years the celebration continued, although Dodd stopped promoting Father’s Day while she pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. Meanwhile, several attempts to give the holiday national recognition floundered as congress resisted awarding the day holiday status, in 1913 and 1924. On both occasions it was feared that Father’s Day would become too commercialized. As a result, the Father’s Day church service and celebration faded into obscurity -- even in Spokane.
However, undefeated by the turn of events, by the 1930s Dodd began actively promoting the cause again, this time stepping out onto the national stage with the sponsorship of some trade groups including some menswear manufacturers, pipe makers and tobacco merchants who stood to benefit from the holiday. In addition, she had the help of the Father’s Day Council that was founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers. Given that Mother’s Day had started to gain momentum in its popularity, the fact that men were being left out of Father’s Day celebrations was becoming increasingly apparent, and in 1957 then Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal to congress, accusing members of favoring mothers over fathers by refusing to make Father’s Day official. The first steps in truly creating nationally recognized day for fathers were now finally underway.
Finally, in 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first Presidential Proclamation honoring fathers and making the third Sunday in June Father’s Day. Fast-forward a further six years and in 1972 Richard Nixon made Father’s Day a permanent national holiday. As for Sonora, she lived out her days in Spokane, living there with her husband John Bruce Dodd and her family until her death in 1978. Well known in the Spokane community, Sonora was poet and often reminisced about the first Father’s Day. And she did with good reason, after all, today nearly 70 million dads will celebrate the holiday and over 90 million Father’s Day cards will be purchased and sent to beloved dads and step-dads across the country.
As for other nations, today many countries across the globe celebrate one form of Father’s Day or another. In Germany Father’s Day is known as ‘men’s day’ or ‘Herrentag’, meanwhile in Italy and Costa Rica, Father’s Day is celebrated on St. Joseph’s Day on March 19 and in Brazil it is celebrated in August on Saint Joachim’s Day. When it comes to our Father’s Day date of the third Sunday in June? It is shared by countries as far-flung as Nigeria and the Netherlands, Singapore and South Africa, Argentina and Aruba – all marking the day with their very own national spin. Favorite traditions across the globe include spending time with Dad, indulging him with a fun gift and sending him a Father’s Day greetings card.
Sonora Dodd would surely be proud of where her simple 1910 Father’s Day ceremony has evolved! So, whether you get up on Sunday morning and give Dad a phone call to wish him a happy day, or are even planning to treat him to lunch, brunch or dinner, you are doing so with millions of other sons and daughters all over the world. Happy Father’s Day!