Frances ‘Fanny’ Crosby — America’s Hymn Writer
Monday marks the 103rd anniversary of her death.
Fanny Crosby, one of America’s most prolific hymn writers, died 103 years ago Monday. Her lyrics grace every hymnal as she wrote upwards of 9,000 hymns. Some of her most famous works are Blessed Assurance, All the Way My Savior Leads Me, To God Be the Glory, and Safe in the Arms of Jesus.
Frances Jane Crosby
Fanny Crosby was born Frances Jane Crosby in 1820 in New York. At six weeks of age, Crosby lost her sight. A man who pretended to be a doctor told her mother to place hot mustard poultices on her eyes to treat an infection. By the time her mother and father realized she was blind, the fake doctor was long gone.
A year later her father died. Crosby’s 21-year-old mother found work as a maid and Crosby was left in the care of her grandmother, Eunice, during the day. The two became very close, so much so that Crosby once said, “My grandmother was more to me than I can ever express by word or pen.”
Eunice spent hours walking through the meadows with Crosby and describing in detail what she saw around her. The two also spent hours together in the Bible. Eunice noticed that the little girl could memorize scripture very quickly. Eunice encouraged her to memorize passages of scripture, which Crosby did. Eunice also taught her granddaughter about the importance of prayer and a close relationship with God.
Crosby loved poetry and wrote her first verse when she was eight years old:
Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!
Just before she turned 15, her mother enrolled her in the newly founded New York Institute for the Blind, where she stayed for 23 years. Crosby spent 12 years there as a student and taught at the Institute for another 11 years.
In 1858, Crosby married a former pupil of the Institute, Alexander van Alstyne. Their only child died in infancy.
Crosby’s Hymn Writing Career
Around 1864 Crosby began her hymn writing career, with Van Alstyne writing much of the accompanying music. Crosby wrote so many hymns that it’s difficult to know the exact number. She even wrote under pseudonyms so hymn books wouldn’t be filled with her name.
She was under contract from her publisher to write three hymns per week. She often wrote more than that. Many of those hymns would become popular. However, when evangelist Dwight L. Moody and singer Ira Sankey used them during their crusades, they gained much more attention.
In addition to her hymns, Crosby published four volumes of poetry, a cantata and two autobiographical volumes.
A well-meaning preacher once told her, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you.” Crosby replied, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind?” When asked why, Crosby replied, “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”
Fanny Crosby died February 12, 1915 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.