The True History of Father’s Day

by Connor Boyack, author of The Tuttle Twins book series

It was a Sunday in 1909. A young woman is sitting in a pew in a small church in Spokane, Washington, listening to a Mother’s Day sermon.

Sonora Smart Dodd doesn’t remember her Mother—she died in childbirth, but the sermon inspires her nonetheless. It reminds of her own upbringing, and turns her heart to memories of her father, William Jackson Smart, who raised her and her five siblings alone after the death of their mom.

She wonders how many others are like her? Motherless, but blessed with a devoted and loving father who made a home and a happy childhood for his children without the help of his wife.

And weren’t all good fathers equal in greatness to her own?

After church, she complements the preacher on his sermon, and suggests that a special day should be dedicated to fathers too. She recommends the next Sunday, the first Sunday in June that year, because it is the day after her own father’s birthday.

After some discussion with other ministers, it is agreed that the third Sunday in June would give them time to prepare such a sermon.

The first Father’s Day celebration occurred in Spokane on June 19, 1910, but the concept didn’t really catch on. In fact, it was mocked by newspapers and dismissed by many men who believe the holiday’s sentimental nature and gift-giving elements were just a commercial ruse.

(Turns out we dads have always been the same…)

For a while, the idea of Father’s Day dwindled, particularly during the 1920s when Dodd heads off to study in Chicago. But on her return to Spokane in the 1930s, she resumed her mission.

Some suggested scrapping Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether, replacing them with a single Parents’ Day, but everyone agreed that is worse than doing nothing.

Father’s Day was sporadically celebrated for the next twenty years, but it never really caught on.

Fast forward to 1957. Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith took Congress to task when she accused them of overlooking fathers for 40 years while recognizing mothers.

Senator Smith proved to be the squeaky wheel, and nine years later, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson finally designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day through a presidential proclamation. It took another six years, until 1972, for Father’s Day to become a nationwide holiday.

(Dads, you can thank President Nixon for all those ties and socks.)

But joking aside, what started as a grateful daughter’s desire to honor her hardworking and devoted dad has now become a tradition celebrated across the U.S. and many other countries—a day when we all take a moment to express our love and gratitude for the men who helped raise us.


Understanding historical events like this isn’t just about knowing dates and facts. You might not remember that Father’s Day started in 1909. You probably won’t remember the name of the woman who made Father’s Day her life’s mission. And that’s okay. Because what you will remember is that Father’s Day came to be because one man made a deep and lasting impact on the life of his daughter.

It’s the same for all of history.

History is a tool to help us understand our past, make sense of our present, and to learn lessons that can guide our future. Sometimes, history can reveal unexpected heroes, like Sonora Smart Dodd, who saw an opportunity to celebrate the unsung heroes of everyday life—dads.

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