Virginia of ‘Is there a Santa?’ fame was a Villager

In a Dec. 23, 1948, front-page article, The Villager reported that the young girl whose letter prompted The New York Sun’s famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial was “now a Villager.”

When she wrote her letter to The Sun in 1897, she was 8, lived on W. 95th St. and her name was Virginia O’Hanlon. Now her name was Virginia O’Hanlon Douglass and she was residing with her mother on W. Ninth St.

Virginia’s father, mentioned in her letter, was a police surgeon and deputy coroner.

“Dear Editor,” she had written. “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 author of the unsigned editorial is widely considered to have been Francis P. Church, then 58, who was childless.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” the editorial replied. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. . . . You might get your Papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? 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. …”

The Villager reported that Virginia was “a slender woman with bright blue eyes and a ready smile,” and that she was principal of Public School 31 at Monroe and Gouverneur Sts. on the Lower East Side. Many of her students were severely handicapped, the article said, adding that a good number of them were transferred there from P.S. 3 in the Village, since P.S. 31 had better facilities to accommodate them.

Speaking before Christmas in 1948, O’Hanlon Douglass told The Villager: “It will be a wonderful thing if we could teach all children that sacrifice — doing for others — and love are the things that endure. I suppose it seems a vain hope in the atomic age, but we must hope that in time all these children will understand what Christmas does mean.”

A 1993 New York Times article reported that O’Hanlon Douglas, who had a daughter, taught in the public school system for nine more years until 1959. “She was regularly interviewed by newspapers and she had pamphlets printed with the letter and editorial, which she mailed out to correspondents,” the Times article said. She died in 1971.

Lincoln Anderson

The Villager is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.