Fanny J. Crosby Biography
Frances Jane Crosby (March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915) usually known as Fanny Crosby, was an American lyricist best known for her Protestant Christian hymns. She was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing over 8,000 despite being blind from shortly after birth. During her lifetime, Fanny Crosby was one of the best known women in the United States.
To this day, the vast majority of American hymnals contain her work. Some of her best known songs include "Blessed Assurance" , "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home" , "Praise Him, Praise Him" , and "To God be the Glory". Since some publishers were hesitant to have so many hymns by one person in their hymnals, Crosby used nearly 100 different pseudonyms during her career.
Fanny Crosby was born in Southeast, Putnam County, New York to poor parents, John and Mercy Crosby. At six weeks old, she caught cold and developed inflammation of the eyes. The family physician was not available, and the man who came in his place recommended hot poultices as treatment. The botched procedure blinded her.
Her father died when she was one year old, so she was raised by her mother and grandmother. These women grounded Crosby in Protestant Christian principles, helping her, for example, memorize long passages from the Bible. Crosby became an active member of St. John's Episcopal (church of england) Church in New York City.
At age 15, Crosby enrolled at the New York School for the Blind (now the New York Institute for Special Education). She remained there for seven years. During that time she learned to play the piano and guitar and to sing. In 1843, she joined a group of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. arguing for support of education for the blind. From 1847 to 1858, Crosby joined the faculty at the New York school, teaching English and history. She married Alexander Van Alstyne, a blind musician and fellow teacher, in 1858. At his insistence, she kept her maiden name. They had one daughter, Frances, who died in infancy. Alexander died on July 19, 1902.
Crosby was noted for writing poetry from the time she was eight years old. Her first published work was A Blind Girl and Other Poems (1844), followed by Monterey and Other Poems (1853) and A Wreath of Columbia's Flowers (1858).
She also wrote some popular songs, which were set to music by George F. Root. Some of them were "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower", "Hazel Dell", "There's Music in the Air". Crosby saw success with her secular verse writing, earning nearly $3,000 in royalties for her song "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower".
Crosby was never bitter about her disability. At the age of nine she wrote these verses about her condition:
Crosby wrote her first hymn in 1863 for the composer William B. Bradbury, a respected musician and publisher. It was called "There's a Cry from Macedonia". Over the years she wrote for Bradbury and for other composers, including Philip Phillips, Hubert P. Main, Dr. Lowry, Dr. W. H. Doane, Ira D. Sankey, Philip P. Bliss, Mr. W. F. Sherwin, and Phoebe Knapp. Before her death, she had written at least 8,000 hymns.
Crosby was very well known during her time and often met with presidents, generals and other dignitaries. She played the hymn "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" at President Grant's Funeral in 1885. In her later years, she also became a popular public speaker.
When she died, her tombstone carried the words, "Aunt Fanny" and "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine." Eliza Hewitt memorialized Fanny’s passing in a poem: