Classic Christmas Correspondence: Yes, Virginia . . .

One of the iconic bits of twentieth century lore consists of a letter to the editor of a newspaper from a eight year old girl and the editor’s response.  The letter written by Virginia O’Hanlon, daughter of   a New City physician, was addressed to the editor  of the New York Sun, a major New York broadsheet which published from 1833 to 1950. On September 21, 1897, the paper published the letter and a response in an unsigned editorial.

Is There A Santa Claus?

The response went “viral” (or the late 19th/early 20th century equivalent thereof), becoming perhaps the most famous newspaper  editorial in history.

Laura Virginia O’Hanlon, the writer of the letter, became a schoolteacher in New York City as an adult.  She was briefly married to a man named Edward Douglas and they had one daughter.   She retired from teaching in the late 1950s.    Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died  on May 13, 1971.

The anonymous editorial writer was Francis Pharcellus Church, a veteran New York journalist who had been a war correspondent during the Civil War.  Although Church was well-known for his editorials for The Sun [always unsigned in keeping with the paper’s policies], the general public did not of his “Yes, Virginia” authorship until after his death in 1906.

Above: New York Times obituary of Francis P. Church, April 12, 1906

Below: New York Times Editorial on the death of Francis P. Church, April 13, 1906

Question: Did the ironically-named Mr. Church actually believe what he wrote about Santa Claus, or  have we, for more than 100 years, missed or ignored a certain sardony in his editorial?


4 Responses to “Classic Christmas Correspondence: Yes, Virginia . . .”

  • Craig says:


    Now how cool is that?! I’m glad this had a connection for you!

  • Jenna says:

    I have always loved this story…my given name is Virginia! I used to get gifts, t-shirts etc with the saying “Yes Virginia, there is”. No one has made that comment to me in a long time. Has the story been forgotten? Thanks for reminding us!

  • Awesome post! Thanks!!

  • Apple says:

    Are you really Santa Claus? You have given me the gift of a cousin this morning! I’ll have to poke around and see just how he descends from Roger Conant to determine just how distant a cousin he is but a cousin is a cousin :-)

    Merry Christmas!

December 2009
« Nov   Jan »