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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dad Daze: Hats off to Spokane’s Sonora Smart Dodd, the Mother of Father’s Day

UPDATED: Sun., June 20, 2021

The Craftsman-style bungalow at 603 Arthur St. is a nice, stylish home, but it doesn’t stand out until you check out the plaque in front of the 108-year-old structure. The monument declares that it was once the residence of Sonora Smart Dodd, a local artist, poet and philanthropist who is probably best-known as the Mother of Father’s Day.

It’s obvious that something special happened in that house. Dodd’s mother died in childbirth while Dodd was 16 in 1898. She helped raise her younger brothers with her father, William Jackson Smart. Dodd held her father in great esteem and believed that fatherhood should be recognized. Thanks to Dodd, the first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, in Spokane.

It’s fascinating that Dodd, known as Nora, fought for Father’s Day at a time when women had yet to have the right to vote. “She was multifaceted and in many ways ahead of her time,” Dodd’s granddaughter, Betsy Roddy, said from her Los Angeles home. “Whatever she decided to do, she did so with dedication and focus, which is why Father’s Day ultimately came about.”

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson sent a telegram to Spokane praising Father’s Day Services. In 1972, President Richard Nixon established a national observance of Father’s Day to be held on the third Sunday of June each year. I wish Dodd, who passed away at 96 in 1978, could be around today to witness how much heavy lifting dads do to keep their families together.

Much has changed over the years. Dodd, who was a creative force, would appreciate the impact of women in all types of industry. Fathers often carry out the duties of dropping off their daughters at ballet and their sons at baseball while Mom is working overtime. There are more house husbands than ever.

Such a concept was unheard of when I was a child of the 1970s, but my dad, who sacrificed his body as a construction worker, always walked me to my baseball games and, unlike many of the dads, stayed and watched as opposed to strolling to the local watering hole for a few brews.

It’s a different day, but I always felt as if I was missing out if I failed to attend one of my children’s games or recitals. Childhood is so finite, and many more are smacked in the face by it during graduation season as the babies of their family are about to enter their next phase of life.

It’s an honor to be a father. A day paying tribute to dads is nice, and it’s a reality thanks to Dodd, who was quite a character. “She was a dedicated wife, mother and daughter,” Roddy said. “But she also studied art at the Chicago Art Institute. She wrote poetry and was a published member of the Poets of the Pacific.

“She served as vice president of a funeral home founded in partnership with her husband and others; she even worked as an ad writer for your newspaper. Whatever she decided to do, she did so with dedication and focus, which is why Father’s Day ultimately came about.”

Every year at this time, Roddy can’t help but think about her family and Father’s Day. “For me, I always go back to the beginning,” Roddy said. ” Because a real father inspired Father’s Day: her father and my great-great grandfather, William Jackson Smart. He and his second wife, Ellen, had 12 children, three each from their former marriages and six together.

“My great-grandmother told us that the children called each other steps, halves and sibs and got along well. In 1889, the entire family moved to a 1,000-acre farm in the Big Bend area of Eastern Washington. Nine years later, Ellen died in childbirth, leaving the six children still at home motherless.

“In an interview my great-grandmother gave in 1964, she said, ‘It is not difficult to recall the twilight of an early March day at the turn of the century when bereavement came to us at the loss of our mother. Father assumed the role of father-mother in the rearing of his six children. This role he performed with courage and selflessness until we were all in homes of our own.’ ”

Sounds like a father we can all aspire to emulating. It’s not surprising that Roddy celebrated Father’s Day with a twist. “Not only did Dad receive the appropriate card and accolades, but so did my great-grandmother!” Roddy, 59, doesn’t get the chance to travel to Spokane often, but she was proud to return 11 years ago.

“My mother and I both had the honor to go to Spokane in 2010 to participate in the 100-year celebration of the founding of Father’s Day. At that time, I was able to meet many members of my extended family who all told stories about Aunt Nora. … In addition, mother and I have actively supported the work initiated by Whitworth University to create an archive of the hundreds of news articles, telegrams and other artifacts that help tell the story of Father’s Day.”

Add another piece to the archive. I’m proud to not just be a father, but I’m over the moon to be a dad with a parenting column in Spokane, the birthplace of Father’s Day. It doesn’t get any better!

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