Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




While reading the "Principles of Educational Sociology" by Walter Robinson Smith, the writer was deeply impressed by the statement that "Next to the family group and home life, the play group and play life exert the most vital influence upon the unfolding personality of the child." The writer wondered if it was the absence of play life, as American born children of fair social background experience it, that would in some measure explain the dullness of the Italian-American child of Sicilian and Neapolitan origin, who, as the writer knew him, was so lovable, so anxious and eager to please and yet so devoid of that spontaneity and intelligence which make quick learners and apt scholars. Upon reflection, it seemed to the writer that not only the happiest memories of her childhood but many of her most abiding interests and small successes had their beginning in play life. While not analyzing this closely, she seemed to feel, or perhaps to hope, that if the children who are deprived of the heritage of play from the land of their fathers, could only be given it back together with some of ours, they might more truly come into their own that they can ever hope to now.

In order to support this assumption, the writer has made an attempt to discover how important play was and is, by trying to find evidences of the play of children throughout the ages and what part is played in school and education. She has, to this end, consulted many books on play and also visited the museums of New York. But this is only one half of the picture. She has attempted to make a survey of the play background of the Italian-American child by questionnaires, thru personal contact, to organize a play program which will supply the elements missing from his background, and to administer mental tests before and after the adoption of this program, to an experimental and control group.

The writer hopes that this may offer evidence as to whether or not play is important in quickening the development of intelligence and enhancing the chances of greater happiness for the child both in school and in life. The few cases studied will not offer conclusive proof that this program will furnish like results universally. It is rather a case study from which more sweeping conclusions may be drawn.


Laura V. Douglas was born Laura Virginia O'Hanlon in New York City in 1889. At the age of eight, young Virginia wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper, asking if Santa Claus existed, prompted by her father's insistence that "If you see it in the Sun, it's so." Francis Pharcellus Church, one of the Sun's editors, used the young girl's letter as the basis for an editorial and coined a phrase that would become part of the American Christmas vernacular: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Virginia O'Hanlon, later Virginia Douglas, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College in 1910 and a master's degree in Education from Columbia University in 1912. She received her doctorate in education from Fordham University in 1930, submitting a thesis entitled, "The Importance of Play." Her 43-year career as a teacher and principal ended with her retirement in 1959, and she passed away in Valatie, New York at the age of 81 in 1971.