As every good daughter and son remembered their mother on May 10, it’s good to recall that determined American women are responsible for both national holidays honoring parents—Mother’s Day from a woman in the East; Father’s Day from a woman in the West. We got Mother’s Day first, an idea that festered since the Civil War by Julia Ward Howe—author of the beloved “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She envisioned a Mothers Day for Peace that would unite women to protest against the cruelties of war. For several years fro 1872, such an observance was held, but then the idea died It was revived by a Virginia schoolteacher named Anna M. Jarvis, who wanted to honor her late mother on the anniversary of her death, May 10. The first observances were in 1908 in Grafton, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but the idea quickly took off and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day an annual national holiday.
Father’s Day is credited to Sonora Louise Smart Dodd, who was observing Mother’s Day for the first time in her church in Spokane, Washington. In 1909 when she thought of her wonderful father, who was raising six children since his wife’s death in 1898. She pushed for a June date to honor her father’s birth and got instant support from the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA. Spokane celebrated the first Father’s Day on June 9, 1910.
By the time her father, William Smart, died in 1919, Father’s Day was a popular occasion in the country, but it wasn’t an official holiday and that road would take decades. (Some ridiculed the idea of honoring men for their work at home, rather than at the office!) It was President Lyndon Johnson who signed the 1966 proclamation that declared the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day and it became a permanent national observance in 1972 under the signature of President Richard M. Nixon. Sonora lived to see her dream become a national reality. She died in 1978 and a monument to her efforts stand at the Spokane YMCA to this day.