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Yes, Fordham, There is a Virginia


Fordham has its share of famous alumni, but with Thanksgiving tomorrow and the official arrival of Santa Claus in New York (courtesy of the Macy’s parade), our thoughts turn to Virginia O’Hanlon, Ph.D., Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 1930.

In 1897, Virginia, then eight years old, famously wrote the New York Sun from her family home at 115 West 95th Street in Manhattan to ask whether there was a Santa Claus.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Francis Pharcellus Church
The New York Sun
Sept. 21, 1897

(See the full text, original clipping and a picture of the extravagantly mustachioed Church at the Newseum website.)

Virginia, later Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas, went on to attend Hunter College, Columbia University and Fordham. She spent her entire career teaching in the New York City School System, and retired in 1959. She died on May 13, 1971, in Valatie, N.Y.

“What Church did was sustain a child’s hope while giving her a statement of ideals that are worthwhile for the adult. He did not simply continue a myth. He gave a reason for believing,” William David Sloan, a journalism professor at the University of Arkansas, told the New York Times on the 100th anniversary of Church’s famous reply.

Sunday, Nov. 29, marks the beginning of Advent—an appropriate time to remember Virginia O’Hanlon’s timeless question, and Francis Church’s generous response. Fordham University wishes our readers a happy and safe Thanksgiving, and a joyous holiday season.


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