The Commerce Journal

June 16, 2014

A short history of Father's Day

By Joseph Hamrick
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE —

There are more than 70 million fathers in the United States today. 

Some have earned the recognition. Others did not. But one thing they have in common, without the efforts of one daughter who wanted to honor her father, Father’s Day would not be celebrated as it is.

Father’s Day has a storied history, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. 

Although not declared a national holiday until 1972 by Richard Nixon, states had set aside a special day to honor fathers since 1908.

On July 5, 1908, months after 362 men were killed in explosions at Fairmont Coal Company mines, a West Virginia church set aside a day to honor those men, and all fathers in the nation. It was meant to be a one-time event though. 

The effect of Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, who raised his six children alone, was profound on his daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd. 

After listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, it is reported that Dodd asked her pastor why fathers did not have a day to honor them. 

The next year, Dodd had organized the first Father’s Day event inside a YMCA at Spokane, Wash. on June 19. Dodd had originally wanted to celebrate the day on June 5, her father’s birthday, but local pastors did not have enough time to prepare sermons dedicated to fathers, so she settled on the third Saturday of the month. 

Many people were against what they saw initially as the attempt to “domesticate manliness” by giving flowers and greeting cards. 

Nevertheless, the day began to slowly but surely grow over time, spearheaded by Dodd, who wanted people to know how much she loved her father.  

So, she pressed on in honor of her father. 

The day became more intricate and national when a flag was unfolded by President Woodrow Wilson when he sent a telegraphic message to Spokane, honoring the day in 1916.

The event began to founder in the 1920s and 30s, however, when Dodd left Spokane to study in Chicago. A group also arose wanting to abolish both Mother’s and Father’s Day in preference to a Parent’s Day, which the group thought would be a day to honor both men and women.

But the commercialism of the two days foiled the group’s efforts, coupled with Dodd’s return to Spokane in the mid ‘30s with a passion to promote the event anew. 

Dodd used commercialism in her favor, lobbying trade groups who would benefit from the day’s spike in sales for traditional gifts for fathers. 

The day had a renewed sense of vigor, especially among women, when World War II broke out, sending more than 16 million American men to war. 

With the average soldier away from their family for 16 months, advertisers used it to compare the day with honoring the troops and supporting the war effort.  

The day still wasn’t declared a national holiday, but it was supported in unison across the nation.

Dodd still supported the day throughout her life, and lived to see it become a national holiday in 1972. 

Dodd was even honored herself in the 1974 Spokane World’s Fair for her efforts in bringing about the celebration of the day.

Four years later, Dodd died at the age of 96, knowing her efforts to honor her father would not soon be forgotten.