The woman who founded Father’s Day: Sonora Smart Dodd

(Photo by AP News /Nicholas K. Geranios)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
11:26 AM – Sunday, June 18, 2023

You might say that she is the Father’s Day matriarch. Sonora Smart Dodd founded the “Father’s Day” holiday in her hometown of Spokane, Washington, in 1910. As a result, Dodd is the one to thank for those annual gifts and dad-focused celebrations.


Dodd started the custom and got the idea in the first place while sitting in a Spokane church on Mother’s Day in 1909, listening to a sermon about mothers.

“And it bugged her,” Dodd’s great-granddaughter, Betsy Roddy, told The Associated Press. “She thought, ‘Well, why isn’t there a Father’s Day?’”

Dodd and her five younger brothers had been raised solely by their father, since their mother had died during childbirth back in 1898.

Her father, William Jackson Smart, went into farming after serving in the Civil War. He not only handled both parenting responsibilities, but he did it with “leadership and love,” as Dodd frequently said, and she believed that her father deserved more credit.

“So she worked tirelessly with the local clergy and got the YWCA on board, and they had their first Father’s Day in Spokane in 1910,” said Roddy.

Although the report projected that the holiday would be celebrated countrywide by the next year, Father’s Day was slow to catch on. So much so that Dodd spent the next 62 years pleading for support from notable figures to everyday people like presidents and local shopkeepers.

Finally, 37th President Richard Nixon designated the third Sunday in June a federal holiday honoring all fathers in 1972. Dodd, who died in 1978 at the age of 96, had lived to see her wish come true.

The matriarch of Father’s Day was a Renaissance lady who was a painter, poet, and hard-working entrepreneur who ran a funeral home with her husband while raising one son.

“I take a great deal of pride in that renegade spirit that she clearly had,” said Roddy. “It’s time for me to pick up the baton and carry it proudly,” she says with a smile. “I’m the last direct descendant. The legacy is here, which is an honor.”

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