Frances Jane Crosby (1820-1915) There are plenty of notable female hymn writers throughout the turn of the century. They have all blessed us with their musical talents, poetic filled lyrics, and their encouraging songs of worship. In the early eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, female composers started to illustrate their musical talents. There were quite a few of famous female hymn writers but this person I took interest in quickly. Now I want to play a game called “Guess Who’s this Hymn Writer”.
In the nineteenth century, I became the best-known female composer earning the rightful title “the most creative hymnist of the gospel song period”. By the end of the nineteenth century, I became a household name and a noticeable figure on the music scene. When you think of my name is to think about the gospel songs and to remember me as the blind poet who wrote “Blessed Assurance”, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”, “To God Be the Glory” and countless other classics.
Who am I?
Sixty miles north of New York City, the Croton River and its tributaries water the rugged hills of a narrow strip of land in eastern Putnam County, near the Connecticut border. Here Frances Jane Crosby, “America’s sweet singer in Israel”, was born 24 March 1820 in a small clapboard house built in 1758 and standing just back from Froggintown Road (Blumhofer, p. 1). The only child of John and Mercy Crosby, Fanny Crosby was born into a humble home crowded with extended family. They boasted few worldly goods, but they cherished a rich family lore (Blumhofer, p. 2).
Her parents were poor but they came from sturdy New England ancestry. One of the ancestors was among the founders of Harvard University and several were graduates of that institution. Shortly after her birth, Fanny’s father died (Miller, p. 61). By late April, the Crosbys were alarmed. Something was wrong with baby’s eyes. In later years, Fanny spoke of a sickness that made her eyes “very weak”. More disconcerting, the family was unable to obtain competent medical assistance; the community doctor was away (Ruffin, p. 12). Finally, they found a man who claimed to be a physician.
Eighty-six years later, Fanny wrote of him as “a stranger”. Whoever he was, he horrified the Crosby’s by putting a hot poultice on the baby’s inflamed eyes. The “doctor” insisted the extreme heat would not hurt the child’s eyes and would draw out the infection. As the months went by, little Fanny Jane made no response when objects were held before her face. The “doctor” did not remain long in Southeast (Ruffin, p. 13). Darlene Neptune’s book “Fanny Crosby Still Lives”, after all these years, Fanny found herself not being upset with him.
She quoted: “But I have not for a moment, in more than ninety-four years, felt a spark of resentment against him because I have always believed from my youth to this moment that the good Lord, in Hid Infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do”(p. 18). From the time it was apparent Fanny was blind, Mercy did not give up hope for a cure. After five years, aided by generous contributions from neighbors for miles around, she felt she had scarped up enough money to go to New York City to procure an appointment for Fanny to be examined by Dr.
Valentine Mott, one of America’s finest surgeons, of Columbia University School of Medicine (Ruffin, 19. ) But even the famous physician could offer no help. His examination brought the dreaded verdict that Crosby would never regain sight (Blumhofer, p. 19). In 1834, Mercy Crosby learned that the New York state legislature had passed an act to provide stipends to enable blind students to enroll at the new Institution for the Blind in Manhattan. Education beckoned at last, and Crosby made up her mind to follow even though it meant life among strangers in the confusing exhilaration of New York City.
Just sixty miles away, Manhattan was now only a day’s journey but still a world apart from the haunts of Fanny Crosby’s childhood (Blumhofer, p. 29). Fanny Crosby spent twelve years as a pupil in the New York Institution for the blind, and there she was a teacher from 1847 to 1858, teaching language and history. While she was yet a pupil, she was a splendid illustration of what education can do for the blind, and once she recited a poem on the subject before the Senate and House Representatives at Washington, and also before the governor and legislature of New Jersey (Well, p. 4). It was not, however, till February 5, 1864, that she wrote her first hymn. It was written for W. B. Bradbury, and ever since that time he, and his successors, Biglow and Main, were her publishers, accepting and paying for all that she wrote (Wells, p. 34). The delightful association with Bradbury was cut short by his untimely death. However, his publishing house continued to publish her songs for forty years. After his death Fanny said, “Of all my friends, I loved him the best. When I get to heaven I am going to ask first for William B. Bradbury”(Miller, p. 65).
She wrote many hymns for such singers and composers as Sankey, Doane, Lowery, Philip Philips, Sweney, Sherwin and Kirkpatrick. Her songs have blessed thousands of lives, and there is scarcely one of them but has won many souls to the Saviour (Wells, p. 35). In 1858 Miss Crosby was married to another pupil of the institution, Alexander Van Alstyne, a musician (Wells, p. 35). He was a gentleman who had set many of her hymns to music, and who was also blind (Jones, p. 289). They were married in a private ceremony March 5 in the little town of Maspeth. Van was twenty-seven, Fanny thirty-eight (Ruffin, p. 7). About 1859, Fanny became a mother, but the child died in infancy. This was perhaps the greatest misfortune of Fanny’s life. She almost never spoke of it. We do not know whether the baby was a girl or boy, or the cause of death (Ruffin, p. 69). After this tragedy, Fanny’s dream of a quiet, secluded life on rural Long Island seemed to have been exploded. What was once a rustic paradise had become an inferno and she yearned to escape the scenes of her suffering. So she and Van returned to Manhattan about 1860 and took a room a few blocks from the Institution (Ruffin, p. 69).
From the late 1860s, Fanny dominated the hymnals published by the New York firm, contributing between a third and a half of the selections. So prolific was her writing, the editors had to induce her to use pen names to disguise the fact they depended so heavily on one lyricist. Besides sigining her name as “Fannie”, “F. A. N. ,” “F. J. C. ,” “Fanny Van Alstyne,” “Mrs. Alexander Van Alstyne,” and “Mrs. Van A. ,” she was using frankly weird appellations: “L. L. A. ,” “J. W. W. ,” “###,” “*”, and “The Children’s Friend” (Ruffin, p. 96). Fanny Crosby’s hymns are the reflection of a worshipping soul.
They are the rhymed emotions of a Christian heart set to music (Miller, p. 61). By the early 1870s, she was well on her way to becoming the queen of hymn writers. Fanny often matched her poems to familiar tunes. An example is “We Thank Thee, Our Father,” written to the melody of the famous “Adeste Fidelis”. She set poems to Scottish and Welsh airs and used tunes by Stephen Foster. The only hymns ever published for which she supplied bot music and words are “Jesus, Dear, I Come To Thee,” “The Blood-Washed Throng” (included in her 1906 autobiography), and a spring carol (Ruffin, p. 7). The straightforward “To God Be the Glory,” with its simple statement of the Christian faith, was scarcely noticed when published, but it was rediscovered and popularized by Billy Graham in the 1950s. In 1875, Fanny was fifty-five years old. She and Van now were living on the East Side near the offices of Biglow and Main (Ruffin, p. 101). About this time in New York, Fanny met still another composer: a six-foot, gaunt man with pince-nez spectacles and a neat goatee. Over the next few decades, Stebbins would set many of Fanny’s poems to music.
He his not always do a good job; his style was sometimes monotonous, awkward, and unmelodic. However, he did write some very appealing hymn tunes. With Fanny, he wrote “Jesus Is Calling” and “Saved by Grace”. By this time, Fanny had created most of her famous hymns. In nine years, she had written “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”, “Blessed Assurance”, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour”, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”, “I Am Thine, O Lord”, “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me”, “Close to Thee”, “Praise Him! Praise Him! ,” “To God Be the Glory”, “EveryDay and Hour”, and “Rescue the Pershing” (Ruffin, p. 15). Among these was “Safe In the Arms of Jesus”, which was written at the special request of her friend, Mr. W. H. Doane, the well-known composer. Mr. Doane had written a melody for which he had no words suitable. He therefore called on Mrs. Alstyne, played the melody over to her, and begged that she would write him some words suitable to the tune. This Mrs. Alstyne promised to do, and “Safe In the Arms of Jesus” was the result (Jones, p. 289). In later years, with two or three possible exceptions, none of her hymns would equal these in popularity.
The fact that her current hymns were not as popular as earlier ones did not trouble Fanny. She knew she was doing the Lord’s work and felt certain her hymns would be helpful to some people. If they led just one person to Christ, she would be content (Ruffin, p. 115). On March 5, 1905, she spoke at the YMCA at Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to 750 people packed into a hall built for 650. She gave no sermon or lecture as such but, as she did so often, told about her life, about how God had enabled her to overcome her handicap and how He inspired her hymns (Ruffin, p. 77). She wrote very rapidly, and some of her most famous hymns were dictated almost as fast as the words could be taken down. Her hymns are full of the Bible with which her memory stored. When she was a mere child she committed to memory the first four books of the Old Testament and the four Gospels (Wells, p. 35). People sought her help writing poetry, and she never withheld assistance. Some came who had no talent at all, but Fanny did get the opportunity to coach people with real ability (Ruffin, p. 188).
Fanny’s spiritual counsel was so helpful and uplifting that many people asked her to write about her theology, but “I have never thought much about theology”, she would say (Ruffin, p. 190). In August 1914, Fanny suffered a mild heart attack. She again believed her time had come. During the illness she had ecstatic visions, and when she was better, she reported that these were the most remarkable of her life. Fanny partially recovered (Ruffin, p. 203). The first of the doctors arrived about 4:30 on February 12, 1915, and pronounced her dead of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
According to many witnesses, Fanny Crosby’s was the largest funeral ever seen in Bridgeport, surpassing even that of P. T. Barnum (Ruffin, p. 207). Everyone at the funeral was given a violet, as they passed by the coffin they placed their violet inside her casket, they said it seemed as if she were sleeping in a bed of violets (Neptune, p. 202). Today, her songs are being sung all over the world. Not only did she write hymns but she also wrote poems too. While best remembered for her hymns, her generosity and care for society is still a challenge for us even today.
She refused to let her blindness be anything but other than a blessing from God. Until 1955, there was nothing marked on Fanny Crosby’s grave but the inscription, “She hath done what she could”. But on May 1 that year, a large marble slab was erected on her grave with a new inscription that concludes with a verse from her famous hymn: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His spirit, washed in His Blood” (Ruffin, p. 208). Works Cited Blumhofer, Edith Waldvogel.
Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. , 2005. Print. Jones, Francis A. Famous Hymns and Their Authors: With Portr. and Facs. Detroit: Singing Tree Pr. , 1970. Print. Miller-Loessi, Basil. Ten Girls Who Became Famous. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1960. Print. Neptune, Darlene. Fanny Crosby Still Lives. Naples, FL: Neptune Ministries, 2001. Print. Ruffin, Bernard. Fanny Crosby: The Hymn Writer. Ulrichsville, OH: Barbour, 1995. Print. Wells, Amos Russel. Treasure of Hymns. [S. l. ]: Wilde, 1945. Print.
Cite this Frances Jane Crosby
Frances Jane Crosby. (2016, Sep 28). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/frances-jane-crosby/