The Mother of Father’s Day

Americana, People, Traditions
on June 10, 2010
Courtesy of Spokane Regional CVB Sonora Smart Dodd started Father's Day in 1910 in Spokane, Wash., inspired by the sacrifices of her father.

Though he's a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Jerry Numbers did not appreciate the significance of the home that he and his wife, Bev, purchased in 1972 in Spokane, Wash., until learning later that its original owner helped found Father's Day in 1910.

The 1913 Craftsman-style home was where Sonora Smart Dodd lived for 33 years while promoting a local celebration of fatherhood into a national observance each third Sunday in June.

"The more we learned about the house, about Sonora and about the fact that very few people know Spokane is the birthplace of Father's Day, the more we realized the value of restoring the house and honoring Sonora," recalls Numbers, 72, who helped transform the home from a rental property into the couple's permanent residence and a historical attraction.

During this year's centennial celebration of Father's Day, the Numbers will open their home to public tours, offering a glimpse into the life of the Spokane artist, poet and philanthropist who is best remembered as the Mother of Father's Day.

Two of Dodd's watercolor paintings hang in the parlor, where more than a dozen of her American Indian doll creations are housed in a curio cabinet. Black-and-white photographs of Dodd are displayed, along with her personal collection of coffee cups and mugs dedicated to dads, which the couple obtained while rummaging through storage containers with Dodd's granddaughter, Barbara Hillerman, 75, who now lives in Vienna, Austria.

"Preserving this house helps preserve a part of history that has impacted not only Spokane but all of America and much of the entire world," says Linda Yeomans, 60, a historic preservation consultant in Spokane who helped guide the home's three-year restoration.

Sonora Smart was 16 years old in 1898 when her mother died, leaving William Jackson Smart to raise Sonora and her five younger brothers on a remote farm in eastern Washington. The widowed Civil War veteran was determined to keep his family together even though, under similar circumstances, many men would have sent the youngest children to live with relatives. His example left an indelible impression on his adoring daughter.

She moved to Spokane at age 17 after marrying insurance agent and businessman John Bruce Dodd, and the couple had one son in 1909. That same year, while listening to a Mothers Day sermon at Central United Methodist Church, Sonora Dodd thought about her father, who was living at the time, and wondered why fathers didnt have "a place in the sun, too."

"His kindness and the sacrifices he made inspired me," Dodd told the New York Sun in 1936 for an article about the origins of Father's Day.

Presenting her idea of an annual celebration of fatherhood to Spokane ministers, she convinced the pastors to deliver Father's Day sermons on June 19, 1910. In those congregations, family members wore roses, red for living dads and white for deceased dads, while the mayor of Spokane and governor of Washington issued Father's Day proclamations.

Not content with a local celebration, Dodd spread her passion for a nationally recognized holiday through personal letters, newspaper articles and political avenues. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge suggested that states observe the day, but it was not until 1972, when Dodd was 90 years old, that President Richard Nixon designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day in America. Today, the holiday is celebrated in more than 50 nations.

Dodd died in 1978 at age 96 and is buried near her husband and her father in the family plot at Spokane's Greenwood Memorial Terrace, where a memorial plaque to the Mother of Father's Day and a meditation garden are to be unveiled this Father's Day.