June 17, 2007
Many attribute Fathers Day to Sorona Smart Dodd, who was born in Jenny Lin, Ark. in 1882. Ms. Dodd’s father, William Jackson Smart, was a Civil War veteran and took his family to Spokane, Wa. as a pioneer out west. When Ms. Dodd was 16, her mother died in childbirth. She and her father raised five younger brothers, and she adored her father.
The story of Father’s Day was portentous of the diminishing of the importance of fathers that was to come. It did not happen merely because Ms. Dodd thought that fathers should be celebrated. On a Mother’s Day in 1910, Ms. Dodd went to a church service. She thought it was wrong that mothers were recognized and fathers were not. It was then that she approached the Spokane Ministerial Alliance. The Ministerial Alliance picked the third Sunday in June, and the holiday was born as we presently know it in June.
The first June Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, in Spokane. Young men from the YMCA wore roses to church. A red rose honored a living father; a white rose was worn in memory of a deceased father. Ms. Dodd herself rode through town in a horse-drawn carriage and distributed gifts to shut-in fathers.
Soon, newspapers around the nation were writing about the Spokane Father’s Day and the need for national recognition. President Woodrow Wilson spoke in Spokane on Father’s Day in 1916. It did not become a nationally recognized annual holiday until 1972 through the efforts of President Nixon.
Ms. Dodd spent much of her life seeking official congressional recognition. She died in 1978.
Some people also claim that Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton founded Father’s Day. She sponsored a celebration on July 5, 1908 in Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South in Fairmont, W.V. The prior December a mine explosion in Monongah, W.V. killed more than 360 men, 210 of whom were fathers, many of who were also Italian immigrants.
The Fairmont Times of Sept. 23, 1979 has this quote by Ms. Grace Clayton: “It was partly the explosion that got me to thinking how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and those heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such an awful time.” Both Dodd and Clayton picked Sundays close to their own father’s birthday — Dodd was trying for June 5th, but there wasn’t enough time to prepare.
In 1957, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith wrote Congress that “Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable.”
It is fitting and proper that women started and were the champions of Father’s Day. All these women, Sarah Dodd, Grace Clayton, and Sen. Chase Smith can be rightly called, “The Mothers of Father’s Day.” They all recognized the equal importance of the father to the mother, and fought for a national day of recognition, equal in import to that of mothers. To these great women, the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition expresses our deepest gratitude.
RINALDO DEL GALLO, III
Pittsfield, June 11, 2007
The author is the spokesperson of the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition.