At the age of 8, Virginia O'Hanlon became part of American history as the little girl who questioned the existence of Santa Claus. Unable to get a straight answer from her parents, she wrote a letter to the New York Sun in search of the truth: "Dear Editor ...Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?" The reply, which began, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," was instant Americana.
Famous Letter Writer
Educator and writer Laura Virginia O'Hanlon was born in 1889. At the age of 8, O'Hanlon became part of American history as the little girl who questioned the existence of Santa Claus. When she was unable to get a straight answer from her parents, she wrote a letter to The New York Sun newspaper in search of the truth.
The letter read: "Dear Editor, I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.' Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?" The newspaper published her letter, as well as its reply to her query on September 21, 1897. Because the newspaper had a policy of keeping its editorials anonymous, Francis Church was not identified as the author until after his death in 1906.
A former Civil War correspondent, Church specialized in religious and controversial issues at The Sun. He told her outright, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," and went on to explain that "Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see." This holiday exchange has become part of American popular culture and is often reprinted during the holiday season.
Life After Santa Claus Question
As for the little girl in the story, she grew up and became a teacher. Virginia O'Hanlon earned a master's degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Fordham University. For many years, she worked as an educator and school administrator. She also married, becoming Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas.
O'Hanlon's famous correspondence followed her throughout her life. It was run in The New York Sun every year from its initial publication until the paper folded in 1949 (the paper's name was revived years later), as well as in countless other publications throughout the years.
In 1959, O'Hanlon moved to North Chatham, New York. In 1966, she was the subject of a tribute by the North Chatham United Methodist Church. At the celebration, O'Hanlon read her letter and Church's response to an enthusiastic crowd.
Death and Legacy
Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died at the age of 81 on May 13, 1971, in Valatie, New York. She had spent her final years in poor health, living in a nursing home. Her childhood home in New York City became The Studio School. Lifelong teacher O'Hanlon would surely have approved of her old home's new use. In 2009, the school honored O'Hanlon's memory by establishing a scholarship in her name. According to The Studio School's website, the purpose of the scholarship is to "educate children to take their place in the world with integrity, compassion and a lifelong love for learning."
O'Hanlon's grandson, James Temple, told The New York Sun in 2004 that his grandmother didn't think that she'd done anything special. He said that O'Hanlon told him, "All I did was ask the question ... Mr. Church's editorial was so beautiful ...It was Mr. Church who did something wonderful."
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