How Sonora Smart Dodd, The YMCA and Local Churches Helped Introduce The First Father’s Day Events To The Country

By: Billy Adams
| Published 06/19/2021


THE WOODLANDS, TX - Father’s Day is a great time to honor all the dads our lives. We make such a great effort to honor our moms in May, and that love and endearment continues in June with the national observance of Father’s Day. When the idea of a national holiday honoring fathers was introduced, it took a while for that idea to gain acceptance. Mother’s day was designated a national holiday in 1914 but it took another 58 years before a national day honoring fathers became official. Mother’s Day was more easily embraced by commercial entities because giving gifts and flowers to moms had an undeniable sentimental appeal that helped increase local sales. One florist of that time made the comment that “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have”. This way of thinking as well as the view by some men that it was just a way to domesticate manliness or represented a gimmick for commercial purposes made establishing a national holiday for fathers more difficult. Local churches as well as the local YMCA in Spokane Washington had a pivotal influence in the national observance of Father’s Day. Roxanne Davis of The Woodlands Family YMCA said that “Anyone can be a father.., but it takes a special man to be a DAD.” That is such a true statement and the origins of Father’s Day was inspired by not just a father, but by a single dad trying to provide for his 6 children. His efforts and dedication inspired his daughter to not only honor him but every other father in our country.

'Anyone can be a father.., it takes a special man to be a DAD.'

It started in a church service with a loving daughter

Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington came up with the idea of setting aside a day to honor fathers back in 1909. Her mother had died giving birth to her youngest sibling and Sonora’s dad, William Jackson Smart was left to raise her and her 5 brothers by himself. At the age of 27, Sonora was inspired to honor her dad while attending a church service. The idea of a day to honor fathers similar to that of honoring moms was foremost in her mind. Sonora applied actions to her idea and met with local ministers, businesses and the local YMCA to kickstart this special day. We celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June, but the original date submitted by Sonora was actually June 5th, her dad’s birthdate. Local ministers needed more time to prepare their sermons so they moved the date from June 5th to the third Sunday in June. Sonora had the idea of observing a day for fathers in 1909 and by the following year on June 19, 1910 the first father’s day events were observed in her city. Local ministers gave sermons focused on fatherhood. Local residents gave gifts to handicapped dads and boys from the local Spokane YMCA wore red roses on their lapels to honor living fathers and white roses to honor deceased fathers.

From a local event to a national observance

This was a yearly city-wide observance in Spokane, but the news of these events made their way to Washington DC and helped create a path for a national holiday. President Woodrow Wilson and his family personally observed the day in 1916. President Calvin Coolidge signed a resolution in favor of the day in 1924. Coolidge said in his resolution the observance of this day was “to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 signed an executive order that the holiday be observed the third Sunday in June and in 1972 Father’s Day was officially declared a national holiday. The act of congress was signed by President Richard Nixon on April 24, 1972.

Sonora Smart Dodd was 90 years old when Father’s Day was officially declared a national holiday. She died 6 years later. It took 63 years for her idea to fully develop and gain national acceptance. She was a testament to the love her dad showed her. As Roxanne Davis stated “Anyone can be a father.., but it takes a special man to be a DAD.” It is clear that Sonora's dad was not just a father, but strived to be a dad to his kids as well. It may have been the idea of Sonora to create the day of observance, but at its core, it was her father, William Jackson Smart, a single dad, struggling to make ends meet and raise a family that really helped kickstart the national holiday. If you are blessed to be a father, rise to the occasion and be a dad as well. Take your kids to church. Spend time with them. Help them to be a positive influence on others and an important part in the development of their local community.

Click here to view local places of worship

Since YMCA played a part in the creation of Father’s Day, we asked Roxanne Davis, the Community Liaison at The Woodlands YMCAs what activities fathers could participate in that could help them bond with their kids at the local Woodlands area YMCAs. She said “Yes…dads can shoot hoops together with their kids, play pickleball, swim at Y pools, work out together, (with children 8 years and older) as well as participate in martial arts... We also have a large library of virtual resources for families to learn, grow and play together called HTX+. A wonderful way for a Dad to spend time together with his children is to volunteer as a youth sports coach. It’s an amazing experience for all and sets a great example for kids, the importance of sharing your time and talent with others.”

Click here to learn more about YMCA activities for dads and their kids.

Click here to view our Father’s Day Guide

Click here for great gift ideas for dad

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