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Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1897, a child asks a trusted newspaper about the existence of Santa Claus and an anonymous editor answers. This guide provides access to materials related to "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" in the Chronicling America digital collection.

Introduction

"Is There a Santa Claus?" September 21, 1897. The Sun (New York, NY), Image 6. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Were her classmates right? Is there really no Santa Claus? When eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon sent a letter to the New York Sun asking, “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus,” the newspaper’s editor handed it to Francis Pharcellus Church, a sardonic Columbia College graduate and veteran Sun writer for reply. Church reportedly “bristled and pooh-poohed,” yet produced a masterpiece, under deadline, and in fewer than 500 words. Appearing in the Sun on September 21, 1897, “Is There a Santa Claus” is perhaps the most famous editorial ever written, translated into some 20 languages and even set to music. The press tracked Virginia until her retirement as a 70-year-old school teacher, while Church remained anonymous as the author until his 1906 death. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

September 1897 Virginia O’Hanlon writes to the New-York Sun with a simple question: Is there a Santa Claus?
September 21, 1897 Francis Pharcellus Church, the newspaper’s editor, responds to Virginia's question with an editorial that has been printed and reprinted in newspapers all over the United States.