ANNA WARNER Born AUGUST 31, 1820
One of the 20th Century’s leading theologians was asked to sum up in a few words what he’d learned from 30-plus years of writing books to explain Christianity. He answer-ed “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
He was of course quoting the hymn, “Jesus Loves Me” written by Anna B. Warner.
Anna was born in New York City. She and her sister Susan lost their mother when they were young. Their father, Henry, a New York lawyer, raised the girls with help from his sister, Frances. Before Anna’s teen years ended, the family faced another major change.
The financial panic of 1837 severely effected the Warner family. Their losses forced them to sell their townhouse. They relocated to their summer home. That residence was on Constitution Island, across the Hudson River from West Point. Henry had purchased the island only three years earlier after a visit to his brother, Thomas, who served as West Point’s chaplain.
Along the way, Anna and Susan came to a personal Christian faith. The sisters found a way to share their faith on Constitution Island. They began conducting a Sunday afternoon Bible class for West Point cadets. Susan led the studies until her death in 1885. Then Anna carried on until her death. Neither sister married.
SISTERS OF LITERARY SUCCESS
When their father Henry died, the girls needed a new means of support. It came from writing. Susan found success with her 1850 novel The Wide, Wide World. Anna’s novels weren’t as well received. She did find success from a poem she included in Susan’s 1860 novel Say and Seal. That poem, spoken in the book to a dying child, has comforted many living children since. And more than a few adults. When Christian music leader, William Bradbury, discovered the book, he turned Anna’s poem into a hymn by adding music and a chorus. He published “Jesus Loves Me” in 1862.
The song has staying power in our fallen world. Its appeal seems to lie in its childlike simplicity of faith. The first verse reminds us in simple terms that Jesus loves each of us person-ally, that the Bible is our source for knowing His love, that we need His help, and that we can be assured He cares: “Jesus loves me! this I know, for the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong, They are weak, but He is strong.”
Anna, who lived into her nineties, also wrote the lyrics for the children’s hymn “Praise Him, Praise Him, All Ye Little Child-ren.” Her biography of Susan, who preceded her in death by thirty years, was published in 1909. When Anna passed away in 1915, her casket was placed alongside Susan’s in the West Point cemetery.
Constitution Island was gifted to West Point. It’s one of the Hudson River Valley’s historic tourist attractions.
There are many adult connections to the song “Jesus Loves Me.” A most recent one is its association with Whitney Houston. She sang it in the movie The Body Guard. Christian singer BeBe Winans received a Grammy Award for co-producing the song on the film’s soundtrack. BeBe’s sister CeCe sang “Jesus Loves Me” at Whitney’s funeral.
LET ME KNOW: How has Anna’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
Osbeck, Kenneth. 101 Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1982.
(A book for children:) Warnes, Tim. Jesus Loves Me! New York City, NY: Simon & Shuster Books For Young Readers, 2006.
(A book for all ages:) Morgan, Robert. Jesus Loves Me This I Know: The Story Behind the World’s Most Cherished Children’s Hymn. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006.
(Youtube:) You can find people of all ages singing “Jesus Loves Me,” including Whitney Houston as well as Cece Winans singing at Whitney’s funeral. You can also listen to “Praise Him, Praise Him, All Ye Little Children.”
JESSIE POUNDS Born AUGUST 31, 1861
Jessie Brown Pounds, like Anna B. Warner, wrote novels as well as poetry that became hymns. As early as age fifteen she wrote articles for religious periodicals. Her output later included lyrics for cantatas and operettas. She also edited religious journals.
Her hymns may not have the universal longevity of “Jesus Loves Me,” but Jessie wrote a large body of hymn lyrics. (For a list of her best known songs, click the hymntime website in the bibliography.) Most of her hymns saw their heyday the first couple of generations following her death.
She was born in Hiram, Ohio as Jessie Brown. She grew up in the home of a Disciples of Christ minister. Jessie spent most of her days living in Cleveland. She wrote essays for her denomination’s publications and her novels were originally serialized in the periodicals.
In 1896 she married a man who, like her father, pastored a church. John Pounds served Central Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. By the time she moved to Indiana, Jessie had written some of her most familiar hymns.
“We Are Going Down the Valley” first appeared about 1890. Each of the verses begins with the line, “We are going down the valley one by one.” The hymn seems to be a reflection of Psalm 23:4, referring to “the valley of the shadow of death.”
“I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” was first heard in 1893 as part of one of Jessis’s Easter cantatas. It appeared in a hymnal in 1896. This hymn is based on Job 19:25. The third verse paraphrases Jesus’ words from the opening verses of John fourteen, where He pro-mised to prepare His followers mansions, then come someday to take us to them.
President William McKinley (a fellow Ohio native) requested Jessie’s hymn “Beautiful Isle of Somwhere” (1897) be sung at his funeral. It was, following his assassination in 1901. Again, the theme of the song is Heaven. But scripturally, this song is more generic.
These three hymns from the 1890s have found their place as funeral hymns. But that’s not the only theme Jessie used.
THE GREATEST THEME
“The Way of the Cross Leads Home” was published in a 1906 hymnal. More than anticipat-ing going to Heaven, this song emphasizes getting there by salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross. It opens with the words “I must needs go by the way of the cross, there’s no other way but this.” Verse two begins with “I must go on in the blood sprinkled way.”
One of her older hymns that has seen new life in recent years is “Anywhere with Jesus” (1884). The song contrasts life’s less welcomed situations with Jesus’ assuring presence.
Jessie expressed her faith not only through her writings, but through involvement in the social needs around her. She participated in the local Red Cross, the Ohio’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and other causes.
After having influenced many lives in her home state, her denomination, and the church and literary world at large, Jessie passed away in Hiram, Ohio in 1921.
LET ME KNOW: How has Jessie’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
Reese, Edward, editor. Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Chattanooga Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 2007.
Dr. Sandra Parker, Separating Apples, Potatoes and Peaches: Advocate of the Social Gospel in Cleveland 1880-1920. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed August 28, 2012, http://www.case.edu/artsci/wrss/documents/Parker_001.pdf.
(About her novels:) Parker, Sandra. After the Western Reserve: The Ohio Fiction of Jessie Brown Pounds. Popular Press 1, 1999.
(Her novels:) Search via her name at Amazon.com.
(Youtube:) You’ll find her hymns by title, but be aware that “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” is also a number from Handel’s Messiah.——————————————————————————————————-