Frances Jane Crosby the Blind Hymnwriter

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby was born on March 24, 1820, in Southeast, Putnam County, New York State.  We know her as Fanny Crosby, or Frances Jane Van Alstyne.  At the age of six weeks a medical charlatan treated her for an eye infection with hot mustard poultices, and as a result she was blinded for life!

Fanny’s father died about a year later.

At the age of eight her bent for poetry began to reveal itself.  She wrote:

Oh what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be …

A godly grandmother introduced explained what things looked like to her and taught to love and memorise the Bible … and Fanny managed to memorise large portions. As a child “she could repeat from memory the Pentateuch, the book of Ruth, many of the Psalms, the books of Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and much of the New Testament!”

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Fanny often told her needs to God and saw him answer. One prayer was for the chance to go to school and learn. At about the age of 15 that prayer was answered and she attended a new school, The Institution for the Blind in New York City. Fanny spent 23 years there, first as a student and then as a teacher.

Despite her religious convictions and Bible knowledge it was not until 1850, at age 31, that she became assured of her soul’s salvation.

She had a dream one night in the Blind School where she worked, a dream that spoke of death and readiness to meet the Lord.  And there was the singing of a hymn by Isaac Watts, at an evangelistic mission she attended:

Alas and did my Saviour bleed
And did my Sovereign die …

She left that meeting assured of sins forgiven.

At the age of 20 she fell in love with another blind student, Alexander VanAlstyne, and some years later she learned of his affection for her. At the age of 37, on March 5, 1858, she married her man and they enjoyed 44 years of happy marriage together. Their only child died as a baby. Her church connection was with the old John Street Methodist Episcopal Church of New York.

Fanny wrote poems and was privileged to recite them to Congress when she was 23, then to entertain Presidents in the years that followed. Her first book of poems appeared when she was 24, titled The Blind Girl and Other Poems.

But her calling to write gospel songs came later in her life. At the age of 44 she was introduced to well-known composer William B Bradbury who suggested that she write the lyrics for a hymn for him. That experience produced “We are going, we are going, To a home beyond the skies” which became a Sunday School favourite and confirmed to her she had found her life calling.

Thousands of Gospel songs flowed from her pen – sometimes seven or eight in a day.

A Shelter in the Time of Storm, Blessed Assurance, Rescue the Perishing, To God be the Glory, Pass me not O gentle Saviour, He Hideth my Soul, and many, many more – about 8,000 altogether.

Many moving testimonies came to Fanny to confirm the awesome spiritual impact her hymns had. She often wrote hymns based on her experiences at New York street missions for working class men. She also preached in these venues. Stories of souls saved due to the use of her hymns around the world testify to the divine destiny of her hymn-writing gift. Each account testified to God’s answer for her prayer that she would be instrumental in saving a million men.

Many composers brought her tunes or asked her for new songs for special occasions. These hymns flowed often in just 30 minutes and then were sung for the next century or so. For years she was under engagement with Biglow and Main to furnish them regularly three songs a week.

Fanny was sensitive to the Lord’s promptings. One night, while preaching in a mission, she felt impressed that some young man had abandoned his mother’s faith and must repent that very night. A 19 year old came forward and found God’s grace. From that experience she wrote “Rescue the Perishing”. On another occasion in 1874 she needed $5 and knelt to ask God to provide. A man visited soon after, just to meet this famous lady, and gave her $5 as he left. This led to her hymn “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me”.

The crusades of Moody and Sankey did much to popularise Fanny’s hymns on both sides of the Atlantic. She also composed much for Mr Doane’s evangelistic work. Music for her hymns was also contributed by such notables as Phoebe Palmer Knapp, George Stebbins, S J.Vail and Ira D Sankey.

At age 90 she declared, “My love for the Holy Bible and its sacred truth is stronger and more precious to me at ninety than at nineteen”. Asked about her long years, she said her secret was that she guarded her taste, her temper and her tongue.

Fanny outlived her husband by 13 years, dying at Bridgeport, Connecticut on Friday morning, February 12, 1915, not long before her 95th birthday.  And then – to paraphrase her own hymn – “she saw Him, face to face!”

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com