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The man who inspired Father’s Day was a single dad whose daughter wanted the nation to celebrate all he did for their family.
William Jackson Smart’s wife died when their daughter was just 16, so Sonora Smart Dodd grew up watching her dad take care of her and her five younger siblings by himself. When the nation started observing Mother’s Day in the early 1900s, Sonora thought dads like hers deserved recognition, too.
According to The Spokesman Review, Dodd listened to the Mother’s Day sermon in her Spokane, Wash., church in 1909. The preacher never mentioned fathers, and Dodd started thinking about everything her dad had done for their family after her mother died.
“He was both father and mother to me and my brothers and sisters,” she later told The Spokesman Chronicle, according to The History Channel.
After the sermon, Dodd, then 28, went up and asked her pastor if he thought fathers deserved a special day. According to the Washington Post, she started a petition soon after and earned the support of the local YMCA and ministerial association.
According to the Spokesman Review, Dodd wanted the holiday to fall on her father’s birthday, June 5. But churches in town asked for more time to prepare sermons, and it was delayed until June 19.
That day, in 1910, the city of Spokane observed the first Father’s Day. The mayor and Washington governor signed proclamations, and pastors’ sermons were all about dads, with bouquets of flowers given to fathers in churches’ pews.
It took years for Father’s Day to became popular across the country. President Woodrow Wilson celebrated the day in Spokane in 1916, but it didn’t become an official national holiday until 1972. It’s now observed annually on the third Sunday in June.