Born MARCH 24, 1820
Frances Jane Crosby was only a few weeks old when a man posing as a doctor treated her for an eye infection, making her blind. Later, in her 50’s, someone described Fanny as “A blind lady whose eyes can see splendidly into the sunshine of God’s Love.” Through her spiritual eyes, Fanny helped re-define the modern church hymn. In the process, she contrib-uted to the spiritual lives of millions.
Her memory was one of her greatest assets. When she was eight years old, her grandmother coached her in memorizing large portions of scripture. By the end of her ninth year, she’d committed the Pentateuch and the four Gospels to memory.
Fanny entered the New York Institute for the Blind in 1835, at age fifteen. She excelled. Musically, she had a good singing voice and learned to play the guitar, the harp, the piano and the organ. Her greatest skill, writing poetry, eventually earned her the title “the blind poetess.” After graduating, she later joined the school faculty. Another former student, Alexander Van Alstine, completed his education at a regular college, then returned to the institute to teach music. They both left the school in 1858 to become husband and wife.
JOYS AND SORROWS
Fanny experienced great spiritual joy on a November night in 1850. Failing to sense full satisfaction in her relationship with God, she responded at the end of a revival service on the final verse of the Isaac Watts hymn “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed.”
She enjoyed married life. However, she and Alexander had only one child, who died as an infant. The death of friends also bothered Fanny. She eventually outlived her friends who were also hymn writers. President Lincoln’s assassination grieved her. But Fanny’s joys far outweighed her sorrows.
A NEW HYMN ERA
In the 1860’s, most church hymns were considered stuffy. During those years, part of the Second Great Awakening, people from all walks of life were coming to personal faith in Jesus Christ. Fanny’s lyrics, to which anyone could relate, were a breath of fresh air. Her simple phrases, based on scripture, captured the feelings of a Christian era.
Fanny wrote her first hymn when she was forty. Gospel music leader William Bradbury promised her, “While I have a publishing house, you will always have work!” For the next fifty years, she wrote hymn texts, producing between 8,000-9,000 of them.
FIVE FAVORITE HYMNS BY FANNY
“Blessed Assurance” – 1873 (music by Phoebe Knapp)
While Fanny chose to live in New York among the needy to whom she ministered, she had wealthy friends. Phoebe Knapp (whose husband founded the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company) was such a friend . One day at the Knapp mansion, Phoebe played a tune for Fanny, then asked her what it said to her. Fanny, clapping her hands, answered, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” Fanny sat down and wrote lyrics for the song whose title is engraved on her headstone.
“He Hideth My Soul” – 1890 (music by William Kirkpatrick)
Fanny didn’t consider her blindness a burden. She saw it as a gift from God to use her in a way He couldn’t have otherwise. Among things that troubled her was the confusion over an unauthorized biography sold through false advertising. Scripture she’d memorized helped her through those difficult times. Exodus 33:22, in which God tells Moses, “I will put you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand,” became the basis for this song.
“I am Thine, Oh Lord” – 1875 (music by William Doane)
One of Fanny’s speaking tours took her to Ohio. She took a break at the home of William Doane, her main collaborator on hymns. Those gathered were sitting around talking about the delight of feeling God’s presence. Before she fell asleep that night, the words of this hymn sprang into Fanny’s mind. After hearing the words the next morning, Mr. Doane developed a fitting tune.
“Rescue the Perishing” – 1870 (music by William Doane)
Part of Fanny’s ongoing ministry in New York was speaking at rescue missions. One night, she felt compelled to plead for any young man who’d wandered from his mother’s religious training to come speak to her. A young man did. That experience cemented thoughts she’d had for a hymn about winning those living without Jesus.
“To God be the Glory” – 1875 (music by William Doane)
During a campaign in England, D. L. Moody’s song leader, Ira Sankey used this song. It caught on. But the American public didn’t become familiar with it until after a Billy Graham crusade in England in 1952. After he began using the song in the United States, it became a favorite here as well.
Fanny died in 1915, at age 94. After her death, Charles Gabriel, a popular hymn writer at the dawn of the 1900’s, called her “The queen of American hymn writers.” There’s no doubt that more hymns by Fanny Crosby have survived longer after her death to be sung by more religious groups in more countries of the world than those of any other deceased hymn writer.
She eloquently expressed the Gospel’s greatest themes: the need for salvation; Jesus’ atoning death; the surrendered life and Jesus’ eventual return for His followers. Fanny’s life’s goal was to win a million people to Jesus. Given the far-reaching impact of her hymn lyrics, she most likely has by now.
LET ME KNOW: How has Fanny’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Peterson, William J. and Ardyth. The Complete Book of Hymns. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.
- Blumhofer, Edith. Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny Crosby. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmands Publishing Company, 2005.
- Ruffin, Bernard. Fanny Crosby. Cleveland, Ohio: United Church Press, 1976.
Learn more about Fanny Crosby’s life from the following resources—————————-
- Fanny Crosby. Directed by Ken Anderson. 1984. Intercomm, August 2007. DVD.
- The Fanny Crosby Story. Directed by Stephen H. Plitt. Vision Video, November 2002. DVD.
- Crosby, Fanny J. An Autobiography. (Reprinted by various publishers).
- Davis, Rebecca. Fanny Crosby: Queen of Gospel Songs (Ages 9 and up). Greenville, South Carolina: Journey Forth, 2003.
The following video is a short overview of Fanny’s life. You can also find her most popular songs on YouTube by title.
- “The Rebel’s Guide to Joy- Fanny Crosby” YouTube video, 3:33. Posted by mhcseattle on Dec 19, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEEwv3K4ppM.