WA-List » The Woman Behind Father’s Day

The Woman Behind Father’s Day

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Arts, Culture & Media

There aren’t many cities that can honestly claim to have started an international holiday, but we have one in Washington: The first Father’s Day took place in Spokane. Surprised? That’s just one of the facts in today’s WA-List telling the story of a day with Northwest origins.


  • Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart (1842-1919) and his wife Ellen Victoria Cheek Smart (1851-98) had one daughter and five sons.
  • They lived in eastern Washington on a farm between the towns of Wilbur and Creston.
  • Ellen Smart died in childbirth when eldest child Sonora (1882-1978) was 16 years old.
  • William Smart raised the six children by himself.
  • Sonora admired her father, later writing that he was a “kind and loving parent who kept us together and happy.”
  • As an adult and mother, Sonora listened to a Mother’s Day tribute at the Central Methodist Church in Spokane, and wondered why there was no equivalent day honoring fathers.
  • She proposed the idea of creating a Fathers’ Day celebration to the Spokane Ministerial Alliance and the YMCA.
  • (And yes, she recommended it with the collective punctuation: Fathers’ Day.)
  • She wanted the celebration to take place on her father’s birthday, June 5.
  • The ministers said they needed more time to prepare so they chose a date two weeks later, the third Sunday in June.
  • The first Father’s Day was celebrated in churches throughout Spokane on June 19, 1910.
  • Spurred by positive reaction in newspapers across the country, Congress passed a Father’s Day resolution in 1914.
  • President Woodrow Wilson came to Spokane to celebrate Father’s Day in 1916.
  • By the 1920s, most of the country celebrated an unofficial Father’s Day.
  • Sonora spent many years advocating that Congress officially and permanently recognize a national observance.
  • President Lyndon Johnson issued a presidential proclamation declaring Father’s Day in 1966.
  • Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon made Father’s Day a permanent annual observation, on the third Sunday in June.
  • Sonora Smart married John Bruce Dodd.
  • Their house at 603 S Arthur St (shown here) was built in 1913 and still stands.
  • The Dodds lived there from 1913 to 1950.
  • Sonora Smart Dodd was celebrated at Spokane’s World’s Fair in 1974
  • She died in 1978.

Happy Father’s Day! Here’s to you, Dad.

PHOTO © Steve Campion

SOURCES: various sources and stories, including: Andrews, Mildred Tanner. Washington Women as Path Breakers. Junior League of Tacoma, 1989. Kershner, Jim. “Father’s Day is conceived by Spokane’s Sonora Smart Dodd and celebrated for the first time in Spokane on June 19, 1910.” HistoryLink.org, 2010.


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