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A History of Father's Day

Father's Day falls each year on the third Sunday in June. Some historical accounts credit Mrs. Charles Clayton of West Virginia, as the founder of Father's Day. However, most histories maintain that the idea of Father's Day originated in 1909 in Spokane, Washington. While listening to a Mother's Day sermon, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd thought of setting aside a day for children to honor their fathers as well. Sonora's mother died in childbirth after her sixth child, so she was raised by her father, Civil War veteran William Smart, on their rural farm in eastern Washington state. When she grew up, she began to realize how much her father had lovingly sacrificed for her and her siblings. Sonora wanted to show her father how important he was in her life and her appreciation for his love. Her father, Henry Jackson Smart, was born in June, so she decided that June should be the month in which a Father's Day would be celebrated. Sonora approached the Spokane governing council to establish an official holiday on June 5, 1910, which was her father's birthday and the first Sunday of the month. The local government did not approve the special holiday quickly enough to use Henry Smart's birthday, but they did approve the holiday, deciding instead on the third Sunday of June, June 19. The holiday was quickly adopted across the country, with many other women advocating a special day for fathers and popularizing the holiday. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge declared that the nation would celebrate a Father's Day, and in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday in June to be the national Father's Day. It was not until 1972 that the holiday was officially recognized by the U.S. Congress.

During the 1910s, the celebration of Father's Day was not the festive occasion that it is today. Typically, there was a special service in church during which fathers were honored. In general, the entire day was a solemn and respectful occasion. Women typically wore flowers to honor their fathers, as founder Sonora Smart Dodd liked the idea of wearing a red rose to honor a father still living and a white flower to honor a father who had passed away. J.H. Berringer, who also held Father's Day celebrations in Washington State as early as 1912, chose a white lilac combined with a green leaf as the official Father's Day flower. In 1924, a Pennsylvanian bible class opted for a more unusual flower: the dandelion. They felt this was a perfect choice because "the more it is trampled on, the more it grows."