Paternal Origins

Scholars believe that the origin of Father’s Day is not a mere century-old phenomenon. They claim that the tradition of Father’s Day can be traced in the ruins of Babylon. As recorded, a young boy called Elmesu carved a Father’s Day message on a card made from clay nearly 4,000 years ago, bearing a wish for good health and long life.

The modern version of Father’s Day originated in United States. It was a Ms. Sonora Louise Smart Dodd from Spokane, Washington that saw the light of the day. While moved by a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909 at the age of 27, Sonora pondered if there is a day to honor mother then why not for father? Sonora felt strongly for her father Mr. William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran, who raised Sonora as a newborn and five other children in the wake of her mother’s death. Inspired by Ms. Anna Jarvis’s struggle to promote Mother’s Day, Sonora enlisted the support of the Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), resulting in Spokane celebrating the first Father’s Day on June 19, 1910. The observance quickly spread across the country.

With heightened popularity of Father’s Day, President Woodrow Wilson approved of this idea in 1916. President Calvin Coolidge too supported the idea of a national Father’s Day in 1924 to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” After a protracted struggle of over four decades, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day in 1966. Then in 1972, President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of this day. Sonora Smart Dodd was honored for her contribution at the World’s Fair in Spokane in 1974. Mrs. Dodd died in 1978 at age 96.

Other theories of the origin of Father’s Day include the following:

  • Some believe that the first Father’s Day church service was held in West Virginia in 1908.
  • Others opine that the ceremony was first held in Vancouver, Washington.
  • The president of Lions’ Club, Chicago, Harry Meek is said to have celebrated the first Father’s Day with his organization in 1915 to stress on the need to honor fathers. He selected third Sunday in June for celebration, the closest date to Meek’s own birthday. In appreciation for Meek’s work, the Lions Clubs of America presented him with a gold watch, with the inscription “Originator of Father’s Day,” on his birthday, June 20, 1920.
  • Some historians honor Mrs. Charles Clayton of West Virginia, as the Founder of Father’s Day.
  • In 1957, Senator 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.”
    In countries where Catholic Church holds greater influence Father’s Day is celebrated on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19).
    Don’t forget to honor Dad or the father figure(s) in your life on June 17th with a show of appreciation. It matters.
Reference material taken in part from the following sources:


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