William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran, experienced the pain of losing two wives and the profound responsibility of raising his children as a single father. His unwavering love and sacrifice became the inspiration behind Father’s Day.
Born in 1842 in Crawford County, Arkansas, Smart answered the call to serve in the Union Army at the young age of 19, enlisting in the First Arkansas Light Artillery Battery. His battery valiantly fought guerrilla bands in Arkansas and Missouri.
After the war, Smart embarked on a new chapter of life, marrying his first wife, Elizabeth Harris, with whom he began a family. Sadly, Elizabeth passed away in 1878. Smart then married Ellen Victoria Cheek Billingsley around 1880. The 1880 Census reflected the new blended family and showed eight children under the age of 13. However, tragedy struck again in 1898, as Smart’s second wife lost her life during the birth of their sixth child. He was left alone to shoulder the responsibility of raising the children.
Despite his immense challenges, Smart rose to the occasion, demonstrating both strictness and tender care and affection towards his children.
In 1909, his daughter Sonora Smart Dodd, now an adult, attended a church sermon about Mother’s Day. This sparked her desire to establish similar recognition for fathers. She proposed the idea of Father’s Day in the state of Washington in 1910 and mobilized support. She started a petition, igniting a movement that rapidly gained traction nationwide and worldwide. William J. Smart lived long enough to witness the widespread observance of Father’s Day. In 1919, at the age of 77, he passed away, leaving behind a lasting legacy as a symbol of paternal love and devotion.
It took another 62 years to make it official. In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon solidified the significance of Father’s Day by signing a congressional resolution that designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.
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