The Revolutionary Legacy of Sonora Smart Dodd, the Founder of Father’s Day
Behind the annual tradition of honoring fathers with gifts ranging from whimsical neckties to heartfelt finger paintings lies the story of a true renegade. In 1910, Sonora Smart Dodd, a remarkable woman hailing from Spokane, Washington, took the initiative to launch the celebration of fathers. Her visionary act laid the foundation for a holiday that would recognize and appreciate the invaluable role of fathers worldwide.
Dodd’s inspiration for Father’s Day struck her during a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, where she pondered the absence of a similar day dedicated to fathers. As the daughter of William Jackson Smart, who had single-handedly raised her and her five younger brothers after their mother’s untimely death in 1898, Dodd believed it was high time to acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices of fathers like her own.
William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran turned farmer, exemplified both parental roles with remarkable leadership and unwavering love. Eager to give her father the recognition he deserved, Dodd embarked on a tireless mission to establish Father’s Day. Collaborating with local clergy and enlisting the support of the YWCA, she successfully organized the first Father’s Day celebration in Spokane in 1910, an event documented by The River Press of Fort Benton, Montana.
Despite the early prediction that Father’s Day would quickly become a nationwide observance, its adoption was gradual. Dodd dedicated the next 62 years of her life to tirelessly advocating for the holiday, seeking support from presidents and retailers alike. It was not until 1972, when President Richard Nixon officially declared the third Sunday of June as a federal holiday honoring fathers, that Dodd’s dream became a reality. Remarkably, Dodd lived to witness the fulfillment of her vision before passing away at the age of 96 in 1978.
Sonora Smart Dodd was not only the Mother of Father’s Day; she was a true Renaissance woman. In addition to her role as a trailblazer, she pursued various creative endeavors, including painting, poetry, and entrepreneurship. Alongside her husband, she ran a funeral home while raising their only son, Jack, who would go on to become a father himself.
Betsy Roddy, Dodd’s great-granddaughter, carries on her ancestor’s indomitable spirit. As the marketing director for a prominent Los Angeles company, Roddy takes immense pride in the legacy of her renegade great-grandmother. Despite not having children of her own, she cherishes the title of Great-Granddaughter of Father’s Day, making her the last direct descendant of the holiday’s visionary founder.
While Roddy has always been aware of her remarkable lineage, it was only recently that she decided to share her family’s story publicly. Prompted by MyHeritage.com, a company specializing in tracing family histories, she delved deeper into her ancestor’s history. To her surprise, historical documents about Dodd surfaced, revealing previously unknown information that even Roddy and her mother were unaware of. Consideration is now being given to eventually donating some of these artifacts to a museum, ensuring that Dodd’s legacy endures.
Roddy fondly recalls her deep connection with her great-grandmother during her childhood, cherishing the poems, books, and notes passed down to her, including a heartfelt message welcoming her into the world. These precious keepsakes remain preserved in a small box, a testament to the profound bond between generations.
In her younger years, Roddy took Father’s Day celebrations for granted, assuming that the elaborate traditions and special cards for her great-grandmother were simply a customary family affair. As an adult, she remained relatively quiet about her insider status, leaving it to her mother to share their remarkable connection. But now, Roddy feels compelled to step forward and embrace her role as the ultimate custodian of Father’s Day’s heritage, carrying the baton with utmost pride. As the last direct descendant, she considers it a tremendous honor to uphold her great-grandmother’s enduring legacy.
(Reprinted from the original 2017 publication. The author, Rogers, retired from The Associated Press in 2021.)