Father’s Day started by grateful daughter

Last month, we celebrated Mother’s Day by looking at the history of the event so it only made sense to do the same thing for Father’s Day.

Like its maternal counterpart, Father’s Day as we know it began in the US before spreading to the rest of the world.

The first celebration in the US that was aimed specifically at fathers occurred when a West Virginian church held a memorial sermon for the 362 men who died in the recent explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah.

However, this was a one-time event and not intended to be repeated on a yearly basis.

It wasn’t until the next year that the push to make Father’s Day an official holiday took off.

If Ann Jarvis was the brains behind the first Mother’s Day, Sonora Smart Dodd was the brains behind Father’s Day.

Sonora Smart Dodd

Dodd was inspired to create a day especially for fathers after attending one of the first Mother’s Day celebrations in Spokane, Washington in 1909.

During the celebrations, she thought of her father, William Jackson Smart, and how fathers like him deserved to be recognised.

It’s not hard to see why Sonora held her father in such high esteem.

Born in Arkansas in 1842, William was swept up in the US Civil War like most men of his age. He originally fought for the Confederate army but after being captured following the Battle of Pea Ridge in his home state, he switched sides and joined the Union army in 1862.

Following the war, William retired with his second wife Ellen to a coal ranch in Arkansas where Sonora was born in 1882.

They eventually sold the ranch and moved to Spokane in 1887.

Sonora was one of 14 children. Ellen and William were both widowers, with Ellen having three children from her first marriage and William having five. Together, they had a further six children including Sonora.

Unfortunately, William was widowed a second time when Ellen passed away in 1898. However, William refused to let this tragedy destroy him and he tried his hardest to be a good father to his children.

William Jackson Smart

According to Sonora, he did a fantastic job.

“I remember everything about him. He was both father and mother to me and my brothers and sisters,” she said during an interview with the now-defunct Spokane Daily Chronicle.

Following her epiphany in 1909, Sonora brought a petition before the Spokane Ministerial Alliance to recognise the devotion of all fathers like hers on June 5, William’s birthday.

While the alliance couldn’t organise something on that scale at such short notice, they were still in favour of the idea and instead scheduled it for June 19, the third Sunday of June.

The first Father’s Day was a major event with churches across Spokane dedicating sermons to father figures. The mayor of Spokane delivered a speech for the occasion and even the governor of Washington issued a proclamation recognising the day.

However, it would still take many years before Father’s Day was proclaimed a national holiday.

To be sure, it was celebrated by many presidents, most noticeably Woodrow Wilson in 1916, but it wasn’t until 1972 – six years after Sonora’s death and 53 after the death of William – that Richard Nixon signed the Congressional resolution declaring the third Sunday in June to be officially Father’s Day.

From there, it was only a matter of time before the event spread around the world and became the much-celebrated holiday we know and love today


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