Vicki Nunn

by Vicki Nunn

Introduction

Fanny Crosby was born in the USA on March 24, 1820, and became blind at the age of just six weeks. As an adult, she became a teacher at a blind school. She was a passionate supporter of missionary work in the USA, especially in the slums where she lived in later years. Fanny is best remembered though, for her lyrics: around 9,000 of which were made into hymns and over 100 million copies of her music were printed. By the end of the 1800s, she’d become a household name.

During her lifetime, she came to be called the “Queen of Gospel Song Writers,” and as the “Mother of modern congregational singing in America.”

Most American hymn books and many Australian ones as well, contain hymns that Fanny wrote. While Fanny didn’t write the melodies, she wrote the words. In fact, Crosby claimed that “Spring Hymn” was the only hymn for which she wrote both the words and music.

Fanny Crosby as a young woman

Other Work

In addition to the nearly 9,000 lyrics for hymns, Ms Cosby also had four books of poetry published and wrote more than 1,000 secular poems. Before she began writing hymns, Fanny co-wrote more than sixty secular songs, some of which were huge hits in their day.

Fanny Crosby also co-wrote the very first American opera called “The Flower Queen” which was a cantata. While writing in those early years, Ms Cosby continued to teach at a blind school in North Reading.

Fanny was a strong supporter for the abolition of slavery and wrote in support of Abraham Lincoln and his fight to end slavery. She wrote quite a number of political items as well.

Blindness

Due to her disability, Fanny struggled to write legibly, so her friends and family wrote her words down on paper for her. Oftentimes she would have several hymns floating about in her mind at the same time, and could compose several in a day.

Fanny once wrote about her blindness:

“It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

On March 5, 1858 Crosby married Alexander Van Alstyne Jr, a man who she’d met while teaching. In 1859 they had a daughter Frances who died in infancy, possibly from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) which at the time wasn’t understood.

Crosby never spoke publicly about being a mother, only mentioning it in a few interviews toward the end of her life, when she said: “I became a mother and knew a mother’s love. God gave us a tender babe but the angels came down and took our infant up to God and to His throne.”

It is understood that the marriage became unhappy after their daughter’s death, and though they remained married, Fanny and her husband didn’t live together for a couple of decades.

The only comment that Fanny ever made about their marriage came after her husband died when she said:

“He had his faults – and so have I mine, but notwithstanding these, we loved each other to the last.”

Missionary Work

Fanny was extremely passionate about supporting and helping the poor, even going so far as to live in their slums where she worked with them, for the last couple of decades of her life.

Though Crosby had written the lyrics to thousands of hymns, many under different names, she often struggled financially.

The financial stress was due to copyright rules at the time, which exploited poets and song-writers, especially women, and gave the rights to hymns and other music to the composer of the music, rather than the lyricist. Crosby was paid only a fee of one or two dollars per song or poem and never anything more.

In her 1906 autobiography she said that she wrote her hymns ‘in a sanctified manner,’ and never for financial or commercial considerations, and that she had donated her royalties to ‘worthy causes.’

One of Crosby’s goals was to win a million people to Christ through her hymns, and whenever she wrote her lyrics, she literally prayed it would bring women and men to Christ.

Even though Fanny Crosby is best remembered for her hymn-writing, she preferred to be remembered for her missionary work.

Fanny in her later years

Hymns

Fanny’s more well known hymns included:

  • All the Way My Saviour Leads Me;

  • Blessed Assurance;

  • Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home;

  • Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus, Our Blessed Redeemer!

  • Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It!

  • Rescue the Perishing;

  • To God Be the Glory; and

  • He Hideth My Soul

Perhaps you know some of the words for some of her better known hymns such as the following: “He Hideth My Soul”

Verse 1

A wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Saviour to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

Chorus

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

Conclusion

Never one for fanfare, after her death on February 12, 1915, her family followed her instructions and erected a very small tombstone, with the words:

“She hath done what she could.”