February marked the 100th anniversary of the death of one of America’s greatest hymn writers and poets, Fanny J. Crosby. Frances Jane van Alstyne (née Crosby), lived nearly 95 years, from March 24, 1820, to February 12, 1915.
At six weeks old, young Francis developed an inflammation in her eyes that was treated with a mustard poultice, a common treatment of the 19th century. Whether because of the mustard or a congenital condition, blindness resulted. But it rarely affected her attitude. She was known in early years as the “happy little blind girl.”
Her first attempt at verse at age eight shows her outlook.
Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be
The attitude of God’s gratefulness continued as a theme throughout her life. “When I get to heaven,” she once said, “the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”
It is estimated that Crosby wrote more than 8,000 hymns, with over 100,000,000 (that’s one hundred million) copies in print. Many of her hymns include references to sight and light. Notice the insight of one of her most well known songs, “Blessed Assurance”:
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
In addition to her hymns, Crosby published more than 1,000 secular poems, four books of poetry and two best-selling autobiographies. Most don’t know that she also wrote a number of popular and patriotic songs of her day.
During her long life she had the honor of reading her works in front of the U.S. Senate, Congress, and before many U.S. presidents, including John Q. Adams and James Polk; she also was dear friends with Grover Cleveland.
Despite being one of the most popular personalities of the 19th century, Crosby’s most rewarding work during her lifetime was her service to rescue missions. She dedicated her life in serving the poor, immigrants and less fortunate. During her years as a mission worker she wrote, “Pass Me not O Gentle Savior,” “More Like Jesus,” and “Rescue the Perishing.”
Her songs are still sung by churches around the world. Thousands of arrangements have been set for choirs, orchestras and praise teams. The band Caedmon’s Call recently recorded “Draw Me Nearer” (I am Thine O Lord) using one of Mrs. Crosby’s best texts. The words tell her story well:
I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice,
And it told thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to thee.
Steve Hamrick is IBSA’s director of worship and technology.