The Man Who Inspired Father’s Day Was a Single Dad and a Civil War Vet
William Jackson Smart was a twice-married, twice-widowed Civil War veteran and father of 14 children, one of whom dedicated her life to the creation of Father’s Day in honor of her devoted and selfless dad.
The story goes that William’s daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, was attending one of the first official Mother’s Day services in 1909 at her church in Spokane, Washington, when she had an epiphany—if mothers deserved a day in honor of their loving service, why not fathers?
When Sonora was 16, her mother Ellen died, leaving William as a single father to Sonora and her five younger brothers. And by Sonora’s account, he performed brilliantly. “I remember everything about him,” Sonora said many years later to the Spokane Daily Chronicle. “He was both father and mother to me and my brothers and sisters.”
Sonora’s mother Ellen, herself a widow, had three children from a previous marriage. On top of that, William had also been married and widowed before he met Sonora’s mother. William had five children with his first wife, Elizabeth, who were already grown when William became a widower for the second time.
In 1910, Sonora brought a petition before the Spokane Ministerial Alliance to recognize the courage and devotion of all fathers like William on June 5, her dad’s birthday. The local clergy liked the idea of a special Father’s Day service, but couldn’t pull something together so quickly, so they settled for June 19, the third Sunday in June.
On that first Father’s Day in 1910, church sermons across Spokane were dedicated to dear old dad, red and white roses were passed out in honor of living and deceased fathers, the mayor of Spokane and governor of Washington issued proclamations, and Sonora found her calling. She would spend much of the next 60 years pushing for the official recognition of Father’s Day as a national holiday