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Virginia of ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’ grew up to be a teacher

Virginia O’Hanlon when she was young. (Associated Press)
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Whatever became of Virginia of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” fame?

Laura Virginia O’Hanlon of New York City was 8 years old in 1897 when, the story goes, she asked her father, Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant, whether Santa Claus was real. O’Hanlon told her write to the Sun, a well-known newspaper, and said that if she saw it mentioned there, she would know it was true. She wrote the letter, in which she noted that some of her friends did not think Santa was real. The letter said:

“Dear Editor,
I am 8 years old. Some of my 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?
Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West Ninety Fifty Street.”

An editor at the paper saw her letter and answered via an editorial that ran in the Sept. 21, 1897, edition of the Sun and contained this famous line: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

It said in part:

“Virginia, Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible to their little minds.”

Her letter and the response became famous, though this was not the extent of her life’s work. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University as well as a PhD from Fordham University in New York City — and became a teacher and principal who worked for 43 years before retiring in 1959.

A New York Times article published June 12, 1959, reports on a retirement dinner given to her — then with her married name, Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas — at which a teacher named Mary Kasansky, who worked at the school where O’Hanlon Douglas was “junior principal,” read the editorial to the 30 guests.

It noted that the school that she helped run consisted of “classes held in 10 hospitals and other institutions for chronically ill children” and that her “devotion and sensitivity to the needs of her pupils” were highly praised by administrators.

She died May 13, 1971, at 81. Her New York City childhood home in Greenwich Village became the first home of the Studio School, which now has a scholarship in her name. The Web site says:

In the tradition of a curious young girl, Virginia, who lived in the house that became our school, we celebrate the promise and fulfillment of every child. The Virginia O’Hanlon Scholarship Fund will make it possible for more children to grow up to believe in themselves, and embrace the journey of learning. Virginia grew up to be an educator and advocate for children’s rights and believed that all children, regardless of social background, should have the same learning opportunities.