INSPIRING STORY OF A BLIND WOMAN WHO WROTE MANY HYMNS
Frances Jane van Alstyne more commonly known as Fanny Crosby was an American mission worker, poet, lyricist, and composer. Born 24th March 1820, Crosby was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, written many great hymns and gospel songs, with more than 100 million copies printed, despite being blind from shortly after birth. She is also known for her teaching and her rescue mission work. By the end of the 19th century, she was a household name.
Crosby lost her sight to an eye infection and medical ignorance at the age of six weeks. She nonetheless grew up an active and happy child. From 1835 to 1843 she attended the New York Institution for the Blind in New York City. Her inclination to versify was encouraged by a visiting Scottish phrenologist, who examined her and proclaimed her a poet. Thereafter she was the school’s chief ornament. She contributed a poetic eulogy on President William Henry Harrison to the New York Herald in 1841 and subsequently published verses in other newspapers. In 1844 she published her first volume, The Blind Girl and Other Poems, and in 1851 her second, Monterey and Other Poems. From 1851 she began writing verses to be set to music. With George F. Root, music instructor at the school, Crosby wrote a successful cantata, The Flower Queen. She also wrote lyrics for scores of songs, some of which, such as “Hazel Dell,” “There’s Music in the Air,” and “Rosalie, the Prairie Flower,” were widely popular. After her graduation, Crosby remained at the New York Institution for the Blind as a teacher of English grammar and rhetoric and of ancient history until 1858. That year she married Alexander Van Alstyne, also blind, a former pupil, and then a teacher at the school, and she published her third volume, A Wreath of Columbia’s Flowers. About 1864 Crosby began writing hymns. Like her poetry, her hymns suffer generally from cliché and sentimentality, but they also display an occasional gleam of more than ordinary talent. In all Crosby wrote between 5,500 and 9,000 hymns, the exact count obscured by the numerous pseudonyms (as many as 200, according to some sources) she employed to preserve her modesty. The best known of her hymns include “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Blessed Assurance,” “The Bright Forever,” “Savior, More Than Life to Me,” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” They were especially popular in the Methodist Church, which for a time observed an annual “Fanny Crosby Day.” Most prominent among her many musical collaborators was Ira D. Sankey. In 1897 she published a final volume of poetry, Bells at Evening and Other Verses, and she later wrote two volumes of autobiography, Fanny Crosby’s Life-Story (1903) and Memories of Eighty Years (1906).
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On March 5, 1858, Crosby married Alexander Van Alstyne. In 1859, the van Alstynes had a daughter named Frances who died in her sleep soon after birth. Some believe that the cause was typhoid fever, although Darlene Neptune speculates that it may have been SIDS and that Crosby’s hymn “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” was inspired by her death.
Crosby died at Bridgeport of arteriosclerosis on February 12, 1915 after a six-month illness, aged 94. She was buried at Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, CT near her mother and other members of her family. Her family erected a very small tombstone at her request which carried the words: “Aunt Fanny: She hath done what she could; Fanny J. Crosby”.
The life of this great woman proved to humanity that God can use whomever He wishes no matter the situation.
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