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The idea of honoring fathers has been around for thousands of years, at least -- archaeologists found a 4,000-year-old clay tablet in the ruins of Babylon which contains a message carved by a son to his father wishing him good health and a long life. But the concept of a special day set aside for fathers has only been around for a little over one hundred years.
The Father's Day we know today began in Spokane, Washington, thanks to the efforts of Sonora Louise Smart Dodd. While listening to a Mother's Day sermon in 1909, Ms. Dodd began reflecting on her father, William Jackson Smart. When Sonora was 16 her mother died in childbirth, leaving her father, a Civil War veteran, to raise six children, including the newborn infant. Sonora had come to greatly admire her father, and decided that all fathers should be honored with a special day, just as mothers were.
Despite initial ridicule, Dodd campaigned vigorously and got support from the Spokane Ministerial Association, the local Young Men's Christian Association, and even famed lawyer/minister William Jennings Bryan. Her efforts paid off, and Spokane celebrated the first Father's Day on June 19, 1910; Sonora had wanted the day to be June 5, her father's birthday, but there was not enough time to schedule celebrations. The special day proved quite popular, and the idea soon began spreading across the country. President Woodrow Wilson gave official approval to Father's Day in 1916, and President Calvin Coolidge publicly supported the idea of a national Father's Day in 1924. President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father's Day in 1966, and President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father's Day in 1972.
Sonora Louise Smart Dodd was honored for her contribution to establishing Father's Day at the Spokane World's Fair in 1974. She died in 1978, at the age of 96. Today, Father's Day is celebrated by many nations around the world, although not always on the same day as in the United States.
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This page was last updated on June 18, 2017.