June 14 2002

The Story Behind Father’s Day

On June 16, 2002, when fathers throughout San Diego County and across the nation enjoy gifts and cards from their loved ones, most will be unaware that they are celebrating a holiday imagined by a grateful daughter and begun at a YMCA.

For a day of their own, fathers owe special thanks to a young woman named Sonora Louise Smart. Ninety-one years ago, at a YMCA in Spokane, Wash., this dedicated daughter honored her father by calling for an annual Father’s Day.

The inspiration came to Ms. Smart in 1909, while listening to a sermon celebrating Mother’s Day. She thought of her father, Civil War veteran Williams Jackson Smart, who had raised her and five brothers after their mother died in childbirth. Smart thought of honoring fathers with religious services, special meals, small gifts and roses. She shared her idea with local religious leaders meeting at the Spokane YMCA, who agreed, passing a resolution to observe a Father’s Day. The Spokane YMCA sponsored the first celebration on June 19, 1910 the month of William Smart’s birthday. The Father’s Day idea spread rapidly, and in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge called for a national observance.

“In the year 2002, fathers are coaches, teachers, role models and confidants,” said Pattie Griffin, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, “a much different job description than in Sonora’s day! Here at YMCA’s throughout San Diego County, we’ve seen fathers take a much more active role in raising their children and joining family activities, volunteering with their kids, arranging child care and participating in one-on-one programs. Fathers deserve this day of recognition more than ever before, and deserve all the support that this YMCA and other community-based organizations can give them.”

Today, more than 2 million men are primary caregivers to their children —and as many as 20% of them are stay-at-home dads, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of fathers who are primary caregivers has quadrupled since 1970 when the Census Bureau recorded less than one-half million fathers raising their children alone.

Sonora Louise Smart Dodd died at the age of 96 but her legacy lives on. A monument to Ms. Smart’s holiday stands at the Spokane YMCA.

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