June 11, 2014
As evident from the findings in The Hope chest, Mrs. Emma Thorsen (née Bloch) adored her father tremendously. She often paid homage to him in her journal entries and in the letters they sent back and forth from her home in Chicago and his in Copenhagen. She thanked him abundantly for providing her with a wonderful upbringing in Denmark and instilling in her the treasured Danish traditions that she brought with her to America. Likewise, Emma’s granddaughter, Mary Thorsen, had a deep appreciation for her father James (Emma’s eldest son) as well. Since coming to America with his family in 1869 (James then just 15 years old) had stopped at nothing to become successful in his new home country while also passing on his mother’s Danish customs to his own children and allowing them to embrace new American traditions as well. In her journal entries she often credits her independence and enthusiasm for adventure to his teachings.
Who really knows how long fathers have been celebrated? It is said that a Babylonian youth named Elmesu carved out a message to his own father, wishing him good health and a long life nearly 4,000 years ago. This seems to be the earliest Father’s Day sentiment on record.
Last week, on June 5th, Fars Dag (Danish translation for Father’s Day) was celebrated in Denmark along with the nation’s Constitution Day. This Sunday, June 15th, we too will celebrate this special day to honor the men in our lives.
To point out an obvious fact, fathers have been around for just as long as mothers, but a day honoring and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in our society took a bit longer to become nationally recognized – over 40 years after Mother’s Day, to be exact.
There are a few conflicting descriptions about the first initial Father’s Day celebrations, one of which points to Fairmont, West Virginia as the first one in 1908 (just 15 miles from the town of Grafton, where one of the first reported sites of Mother’s Day occurred). However, few will dispute Sonora Smart Dodd as being the key figure in establishing Father’s Day as we now know it, an honor she was awarded at The 1940 World’s Fair in New York and the 1974 World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington.
In Spokane back in 1909, reportedly while listening to a Mother’s Day church sermon, Dodd was inspired to pay homage to her own father, a Civil War veteran and single father who had raised six children on his own after his wife passed away in 1898 when Sonora was just sixteen. She had originally wanted to celebrate Father’s Day on June 5th, the anniversary of his birthday (and, coincidentally, also Danish Constitution Day and Danish Fars Dag). However, the first Father’s Day celebration was officially held near Riverfront Park in Spokane, on June 19th, 1910.
Afterwards, the idea of Father’s Day quickly swept across the country. Others were influenced by Sonora Dodd to organize Father’s Day celebrations in their cities as well. In 1911 Jane Addams, another influential Chicago woman, is reported to have also proposed a city-wide Father’s Day in Chicago, but she was turned down.
A great achievement came in 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson opened Father’s Day services from his office in Washington, D.C. Additionally, In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge recommended the day as a national holiday. However, it would take Mrs. Dodd over 40 more years of continually pushing for national recognition for this day.
Finally, in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day, and in 1972 President Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father’s Day. Thankfully, Mrs. Dodd was alive to see all of her dedication come to fruition.
She passed away in 1978 at the age of 96 and was laid to rest at Greenwood Memorial Terrace in Spokane. Today there stands a monument distinguishing her as the founder of Father’s Day. In 1987 she was posthumously selected to be added to the Washington Statehood Centennial Hall of Honor by the State of Washington, which serves to recognize individuals ‘who have made significant contributions to the social, cultural and economic development of Washington since statehood.’
I hope you all enjoy a wonderful Sunday celebrating your own father, or being celebrated for being one! We now know how important Sonora Smart Dodd’s achievements are to our way of life.
Interested in more about Fatherhood? Read 10 of the most astounding facts here
Being held on Sunday, June 22nd, this exciting celebration is enjoyed by all ages (over 400 people attended last year’s event!) and features entertainment, games, prizes, great food and a wonderful opportunity to visit The Danish Home of Chicago in Norwood Park and see what we’re all about!
Read more about this wonderful day here