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A letter to Santa Claus: An 1870 Christmas Story 

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By Steve Roush
HCP columnist

Ladies and gentlemen, in the Dec. 22, 1870 edition of the The Highland News of Hillsborough, Ohio, a festive article appeared on Page 2 with the title, “Letter to Santa Claus: A Christmas Story.” 

Like many stories of that era, it did not have an author listed, or a byline, if you prefer. It could have been a syndicated piece, but a search looking for the same story in other newspapers of that time period proved futile, so it could very well have been penned by a local writer or journalist.  

The star of this tale is little Maggie Dudley, and the story begins with a group of schoolgirls chatting about the upcoming holiday. So, without further eloquence, let’s go back to 1870. 

A group of little girls were standing on the schoolhouse steps, talking about Christmas. 

“I’m glad it’s almost here,” said one; “we’re going to have a Christmas tree in the parlor.” 

“That’s splendid,” said another; “We’re going to hang up our stockings – papa, mamma, and all of us.” 

“So are we,” exclaimed several voices. 

“Let’s all tell what we want Santa Claus to bring us,” said Rosa. 

So each one named something – books, toys, games, until all but one had given Santa Claus some very broad hints.  

“What shall you wish for, Maggie?” asked Rosa, turning to a little, thinly clad child, who had been a silent listener to the merry talk. 

“I don’t know,” she said; “I never heard of Santa Claus before.” 

“Never heard of Santa Claus!” exclaimed all the voices. 

“No,” said Maggie, stoutly. “Who is he? And why does he give you presents?” 

“I’ll tell you,” said Carrie Hyde. “He’s a funny little man, and he’s always laughing. I saw his picture once. He lives somewhere. I don’t know where, and he makes all kinds of beautiful things; and when Christmas comes, they say he rides around to all the houses, and goes right down the chimneys. And if he sees some stockings hung up, he fills ’em with nice things – if the children are good; but if they’re bad, he puts in rods to whip ’em with.” Carrie stopped, quite out of breath. 

“He never gave me anything,” persisted Maggie. 

“Because you didn’t hang up your stocking,” explained Carrie. “How could he?” 

“You try next Thursday night – that’s Christmas Eve – and see,” urged Rosa. 

The bell put a stop to any more talk on the subject, and the children went to their lessons. Little Maggie went home at night with her thoughts in a whirl. 

“Christmas Eve and Santa Claus!” How should she know, poor child, that Santa Claus was only another name for father and mother, and loving friends? And Maggie had nobody but grandma, poor old grandma. 

The two lived together in a broken-down cottage just outside the town. They were very poor, for grandma was not able to work much. Every day, after school, Maggie’s small hands were busily employed in binding shoes. So there was not much time for play. 

Tonight, as she sat at work, she thought, “I wonder if Santa Claus would put anything in grandma’s stocking, if I should hang it with mine. I’ll not tell her, but I’ll try it and see. Wouldn’t she be surprised! 

But then, what if Santa Claus should forget to stop! Or what if he was tired of stopping at a house where no stockings were ever ready for him?” That was almost too dreadful to think of, but she had to think of it. “I’ll write him a letter,” she said to herself. So after her task was done, she stole away by herself and wrote this letter on a blank leaf torn from her spelling book: 

DEAR SANTA CLAUS, I never hung up my stocking, because I didn’t know. Will you excuse it? Please don’t forget to come here this time. I will hang it on the outside of the door, and grandma’s too. So you won’t have to come down the chimney. It’s very dirty. I mean the chimney. And I won’t peep. You’ll know grandma’s, because it is blue. 


Maggie Dudley 

She put the letter in a yellow envelope, which she found in a box, and directed it to Mr. Santa Claus.  

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue with the conclusion of “A letter to Santa Claus: An 1870 Christmas Story” next time.

Steve Roush is chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a board member of the Highland District Hospital Foundation, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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