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A Brief History of Father's Day

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Father's Day, celebrated in the United States on the third Sunday of June, got a jump start from the formation of Mother's Day. Credit for beginning Father's Day celebrations is given to Sonora Smart Dodd from Spokane, Washington.

At the turn of the century, Mother's Day observances were growing across the United States. The federal government had yet to recognize the holiday, but many states had adopted the third Sunday in May as a special celebration day honoring mothers. It was during a Mother's Day church service on June 20, 1909, that Sonora Smart Dodd was struck with the idea of creating a special holiday to honor fathers, too.

When Sonora was 16, her mother died while giving birth to her sixth child, the last of five sons. Back then, like today, single parenthood was no easy task. By Sonoma's account, though, Mr. Smart did a wonderful job. Because of this love and esteem, Sonoma Smart Dodd believed that her father deserved a special time of honor just like that given to mothers on Mother's Day.

In 1909, Sonoma Smart Dodd approached the Spokane YMCA and the Spokane Ministerial Alliance and suggested that her father's birthday — June 5 — become a celebration day for Father's Day. Because they wanted more time to prepare, the Ministerial Alliance chose June 19 instead.

The first Father's Day was thus observed in the State of Washington on June 19, 1910. The idea of officially celebrating fatherhood spread quickly across the United States, as more and more states adopted the holiday. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recognized Father's Day as the third Sunday in June of that year and encouraged states to do the same. Congress officially recognized Father's Day in 1956 with the passage of a joint resolution.

Ten years later, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation calling for the third Sunday in June to be recognized as Father's Day. In 1972, President Richard Nixon permanently established the observance of the third Sunday in June as Father's Day in the United States.

Sonora Smart Dodd lived to see her idea come to fruition. She died in 1978 at the ripe old age of 96.

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