Meet the Man Who Inspired Father’s Day: A War Veteran and Single Dad with 14 Kids
William Jackson Smart is the reason we celebrate dads every year in June.
For the last 110 years, Americans have celebrated Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June. It just makes sense that we would have a day for each, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, when Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, there wasn’t a day set aside for father figures. A year after the first official Mother’s Day, 27-year-old Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, declared fathers deserved a day too: She wanted a day to honor her own dad, William Jackson Smart, who was a Civil War veteran and a twice-widowed single father to 14 children. America has celebrated both parents with consecutive holidays ever since, and there’s a sweet reason the two are always celebrated five weeks apart.
When is Father’s Day?
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 21, 2020. When Dodd originally had the idea for Father’s Day, she wanted the holiday to be celebrated on June 5 (her father’s birthday). But the local ministers didn’t think that would give them enough time between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to write special sermons for both, so they proposed the third Sunday in June, five weeks after Mother’s Day. And although Father’s Day wasn’t declared a national holiday until 1972, it’s been unofficially celebrated on the third Sunday in June since 1910.
The History of Father’s Day
Dodd was the oldest child (and only daughter) of Smart, who had five children with Dodd's mother, his first wife. After she died he married a woman named Ellen, who had three children from a previous marriage. Smart and Ellen had six more children together, all of whom he cared for after Ellen died in childbirth in 1898. In May of 1909, Dodd was at a Mother’s Day church service and realized that her dad was doing all the work that typically fell to women and mothers. As she sat in church, she had the idea to create a second holiday that would honor all fathers.
Two months later, the Spokane Ministerial Association and the local businesses were on board with her proposal. The city would set aside the third Sunday in June to celebrate all the fathers in the area.
The next summer, the city of Spokane celebrated the first Father’s Day on June 19, 1910. Dodd spent the day handing out gifts and cards to war veteran fathers, and local boys decorated their lapels with red and white roses. Anyone with a living father wore a red rose, while others wore white roses in honor of fathers who had passed away.
But while the city of Spokane has celebrated Father’s Day ever since, it didn’t become a national holiday until more than 60 years later. And although her own father passed away in 1919, Dodd never stopped fighting for the holiday to be nationally recognized in his honor.
In 1916 as Dodd was campaigning for Father’s Day to be made a national holiday, President Woodrow Wilson came to Spokane to celebrate the day with them. But it wasn’t until President Richard Nixon signed a Congressional resolution in 1972 that the third Sunday in June became nationally recognized as Father’s Day. Dodd was 90 years old and still alive to see her work pay off.