One Spokane woman was determined to honor her father

Time Before Now, June 1910 – William Howard Taft, the county’s beefiest chief executive at 330 pounds, never the less, began the presidential tradition of baseball’s first pitch.   The brand new Boy Scouts of America organization was just five months old and French engineer, Georges Claude, made Las Vegas possible by inventing the neon bulb. (Right)

June 19, 1910

On this day a grateful daughter from Spokane, Washington, suggested it was time to honor fathers with a holiday of their own.

The 27- year-old Sonora Smart Dodd, was inspired by a serman supporting “Mother’s Day” that she heard the year before.  Efforts by West Virgina’s Anna Jarvis, (right) to establish a special day for mothers hadn’t actually succeeded.  It had been rejected by the all-male Congress in 1908,  joking that it would require a “mother-in-law” day.

Dodd was especially proud of her father, William Smart.  Sonora’s mother had died in childbirth at just 46, leaving Sonora, 16, and William to raise the four younger children as well as newborn baby, Marshall.  

The Smart family had moved to a farm west of Spokane from rural Marion, Arkansas.  William, (left) despite living in a Confederate state, had chosen to serve as a sergeant in the Union Army.

Dodd brought her idea for Father’s Day to the Spokane Ministerial Alliance, suggesting June 5, her father’s birthday, as a possible date to celebrate fatherhood.  Similar to the Mother’s Day model, however, the Alliance chose the third Sunday of June and Spokane’s first observance was held on June 19. 

Support for a permanent holiday grew slowly but managed to pick up some heavyweight fans.  Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Cooledge, as well as American populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, praised Spokane’s efforts. (Right, Bryan campaign poster)

But it took until 1972 before Richard Nixon established it as an official annual national holiday.  Anna Jarvis didn’t have to wait nearly as long for Mother’s Day to take root.  President Wilson declared the second Sunday in May an official holiday in 1914.

Honoring fathers hasn’t been so tough to take off in some other places.  A traditional date of March 19 dates back to the early fifteen hundreds in Catholic Europe. The modern Father’s Day is celebrated on various dates in some 120 countries.   An International Mens Day is celebrated in a number of nations, as well.

While still edged out by Mother’s Day, America’s Father’s Day has steadily gained popularity.  According to holiday data-trackers, a Mom’s day card is generally sentimental while more than a third of the Dad cards are humerous.  Nearly half the gifts and cards are bought by wives for their husbands but surprisingly, daughters spend twice as much on gifts for their fathers as sons do for their dads.  Mother’s Day has proven to be a bonanza for florists but Father’s Day, not so much.  Ties, tools and gadgets top the gift list.  

Getting a national Father’s Day off the ground wasn’t Dodd’s swan song.   She was active in Spokane’s Women’s Christian Temprance Union, attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was a painter, poet, fashion designer in Hollywood and author of a children’s book on Native Americans.  (Above, Dodd, circa 1930s)

Honored at the 1974 World’s Fair in Spokane as the “Mother of Father’s Day,” she died four years later, on March 22, 1978 at the age of 96.  Her proudest achievement, she said, was son, John Jr.’s selection as the Washington Post’s “perfect father” in 1952.

The Dodd House, 603 S Arthur Street, Spokane, Washington, was the home of John and Sonora Dodd.  The Craftsman style bungalow was built in 1913 and modified in 1922.   It is part of the the Historic Spokane tour of the East Central Neighborhood which includes the Schade Brewerly, the Cambren Dutch Windmill, ten historically and architecturaly significant houses, Liberty Park Methodist Church and Spokane’s East Side Branch Library designed by prominent Spokane architect, Albert Held. 

The Dodd House is a private residence but visitors are welcome to stop and read the historic marker that tells the story of “The Mother of Father’s Day.”  For more information go to

© Text Only – 2020- Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain and fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.