Frances Jane Crosby
BORN: March 24, 1820
South East, New York
DIED: February 12, 1915
LIFE SPAN: 94 years, 10 months, 19 days
"MOTHER, IF I HAD A CHOICE, I would still choose to remain
blind, for when I die, the first face I will ever see will
be the face of my blessed Saviour."
Blind for all of her life, Fanny Crosby, the greatest
hymn writer in the history of the Christian Church, later
wrote, "And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the
story-saved by grace." Though blind, she witnessed over
8,000 of her poems set to music and over 100,000,000 copies
of her songs printed.
As many as 200 different pen names, including Grace J. Frances, were given
her works by hymn book
publishers so the public wouldn't know she wrote so large a
number of them. She produced as many as seven hymn-poems in
one day. On several occasions, upon hearing an unfamiliar
hymn sung, she would inquire about the author, and find it to
be one of her own!
Fanny gave the Christian world such songs as: A
Shelter in the Time of Storm, All the Way My Saviour Leads Me,
Blessed Assurance, Close to Thee, He Hideth My Soul, I Am
Thine O Lord, Jesus Is Calling, My Saviour First of All, Near
the Cross, Pass Me Not, Praise Him Praise Him, Redeemed, Rescue the Perishing, Safe in the Arms of Jesus, Saved by Grace,
Saviour More than Life to Me, Speed Away, Take the World but
Give Me Jesus, Tell Me the Story of Jesus, The Lights of
Home, Thou Mighty to Save, Tho' Your Sins Be as Scarlet, 'Tis
the Blessed Hour of Prayer, To God Be the Glory, To the Work,
Will Jesus Find Us Watching-to mention but a few.
Born in a one-story cottage, her father, John,
never to be remembered by Fanny, for he died in her twelfth
month of life. When Fanny was six weeks old, she caught a
slight cold in her eyes. The family physician was away. Another country doctor was called in to treat her. He prescribed hot mustard poultices to be applied to her eyes,
which destroyed her sight completely! It was later learned
that the man was not qualified to practice medicine, but it
was too late to prosecute him-he had left town and was never
heard from again. Fanny never felt any resentment against
him, but believed it was permitted by the Lord to fulfill His
plan for her life. A wise mother set about immediately to
prepare her daughter for a happy life, in spite of this great
When but five years old, she was taken by her mother
to consult the best eye specialist in the country, Dr.
Valentine Mott. Neighbors and friends pooled money together
in order to send her. The dreaded answer came, "Poor child, I
am afraid you will never see again." Fanny did not think she
was poor. It was not the loss of sight that bothered her
young heart. It was the thought that she would never be able
to get an education like other boys and girls. Surprisingly,
at the age of eight, she wrote her first recorded poetry:
O what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in
contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy,
that other people don't.
To weep and sigh because I'm blind,
I cannot and I won't!
When Fanny was around nine years of age, the family
moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where she was to stay until
age 15. Mother was kind but busy making a living for both of
them, so it was Grandmother who became an unforgettable influence in her life. Grandmother spent many hours describing
the things of nature and heaven to her. Also, she introduced
Fanny to the Bible and this book now became more familiar to
her than any other. She began to devour the Scriptures. It is
said that, 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!
This furnished the themes, inspiration, and diction for her
imperishable gospel hymns.
Two great blind poets of history, Homer and Milton,
were to be joined by another great, Fanny Crosby, who published her first poem at the age of eleven.
Near her 15th birthday came a happy announcementMother could send her to a new school, The Institution for
the Blind in New York City. Fanny clapped her hands joyfully
and cried, "O thank God, He has answered my prayer, just as I
knew He would." So it was on March 3, 1835, that Fanny
boarded a stage for Norwalk and then a boat for New York
City. She was to spend the next 23 years of her life there,
as a student for twelve years, and then as a teacher for
eleven years more.
From early childhood the sightless girl had felt
urge to write poetry, and several short verses had come from
her lips. At the institution her abilities began to assert
themselves with renewed force. Her teachers did not encourage
her efforts but strangers did.
William Cullen Bryant visited the school one day
gave her much encouragement, after chancing to read some of
her verses. She said afterwards, "He never knew how much he
did by those few words." Then one day, Dr. Combe of Boston
examined the heads of the blind students. As he felt her
head, he exclaimed:
And here is a poetess. Give her every possible encouragement. Read the best books to her and teach her the finest
that is in poetry. You will hear from this young lady some
This was the encouragement that she needed. Poetry began to
flow from her heart and mind.
In the autumn of 1843, when she was 23, she was
sightless guest of Congress. Endeavoring to secure an appropriation for its work, a group from the school was sent
there. She paid tribute to Congress in original verse and
then began paying tribute to the Lord. She delivered no stirring oration, nor pathetic story but simply recited some poems, about the tender care of a loving Saviour. She spoke
with conviction, as though she had seen the Saviour face to
face. The notable assembly addressed included such men as:
John Quincy Adams, Thomas E. Benton, Hamilton Fish, Henry A.
Wise, Alexander Stevens, Jefferson Davis, and Robert Toombs.
Before long, tears were glistening on the hearers' cheeks,
for whether great or small, thousands were to find her message a healing balm for the soul.
As a result of this witness, she began to make
friends with the great political and religious leaders of her
time and no one could forget her once they met her. During
her lifetime, she knew all the presidents except George Washington. President Van Buren dined with her and remained one
of her warmest friends. She heralded the virtues of William
Henry Harrison even though he served but one month. When
President Tyler came to the Institution for the Blind, Fanny
welcomed him with an original poem. Her friendship with President Polk was close and inspiring. She enjoyed a close
friendship with President Cleveland for more than half a century, for at one time he was the secretary of the Institution
for the Blind while she taught. He took an unusual interest
in her life and work and was often engaged in copying her
Many visitors came to the school making memorable
occasions for all. Once, Jenny Lind came. She sang and Fanny
Crosby recited her poem called, "The Swedish Nightingale."
When Henry Clay visited the school, Miss Crosby was elected
to recite a poem in his honor. When she had finished, Clay
took her by the hand and said, "This is not the only poem for
which I am indebted to this lady. Six months ago, she sent me
some lines on the death of my dear son." Young Clay was
killed in a battle in Mexico. Standing there, the great
statesman and the blind poet wept together.
At school her first book published at age 24 was
titled The Blind Girl and Other Poems. Also, she composed several popular songs and assisted in writing what was probably
the first cantata published in America. At age 27, she became
an instructor at the school, a position which she held until
1858, when she left.
With all of her apparent devotion to Christ already
shared in so many ways, it is hard to believe that she was
not converted until 1851, age 31. This glorious beginning
happened at a revival service held at the old John Street
Methodist Church in New York which she joined. Recalling the
incident years later, she said:
After a prayer was offered, they began to sing the grand
old consecration hymn, `Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed?' and
when they reached the third line of the fifth stanza, `Here,
Lord, I give myself away,' my very soul was flooded with celestial light.
Romance came into the life of Fanny Crosby, also. As
early as age 20 she fell in love with another blind student
by the name of Alexander VanAlstyne. He was especially fond
of music and was captivated by her poems. She, likewise, was
fascinated by his sweet strains of music. Later, he was to
write the music of some of her hymn-poems and spend 44 years
with her in marriage. One day in June he sang to his beloved,
the music of his heart. Fanny tells the story:
From that hour two lives looked on a new universe, for
love met love and all the world was changed. We were no longer blind, for the light of love showed where the lilies
bloomed, and where the crystal waters found the moss-mantled
He also became a teacher and for over 15 years their
friendship bloomed. Finally, on March 5, 1858, she was married at age 37. Life was just beginning for Fanny Crosby, for
her life's ministry was still ahead.
The marriage was a happy one with VanAlstyne, who
lived until 1902. The couple had one child, only to be taken
in death while yet a baby. Perhaps this incident helped inspire Fanny to write, Safe in the Arms of Jesus, which was to
comfort thousands of grief-stricken parents suffering a similar fate.
Upon her marriage, she intended to use the name
VanAlstyne, but her husband insisted that she continue to use
her maiden name, which was already quite famous. Later, the
couple united with the Thirtieth Street Methodist Church in
New York. Fanny Crosby remained a lifelong Methodist.
Through Peter Stryker, the minister of a Dutch
Reformed church in New York City, she met the well-known composer William Bradbury. He gave her a most cordial welcome:
Fanny, I thank God that we have at last met, for I think
you can write hymns, and I have sought for a long time to
have a talk with you.
He suggested that she attempt a hymn for him that week. This
was the opportunity that she was waiting for. In three days
she returned and submitted her first sacred song, the initial
stanza of which reads:
We are going, we are going to a home beyond the skies,
Where the fields are robed in beauty,
And the sunlight never dies.
This was in 1864, when Fanny was 44. Now, her course was set
and this was her first hymn, used as a Sunday School hymn.
Some stories of her most famous hymn-poems follow:
Pass Me Not was her first hymn to win worldwide
attention. Acting upon the suggestion of her friend, William H.
Doane, Fanny composed this in 1868 after a prison service. As
she spoke to the prisoners, one cried out, "O Lord, don't
pass me by!" She was so moved that she went home and wrote
her famous plea. Ira Sankey said, "No hymn was more popular
at the meetings in London in 1875 than this one."
One harddrinking Englishman heard the crowd singing it and whispered
to himself, "Oh, I wish He would not pass me by." The next
night the service began with the same hymn and he was saved.
He began carrying a copy of the hymn with him every day and
forty years later, as a successful businessman in America, he
met Fanny and gave her twenty dollars.
Safe in the Arms of Jesus was considered by some
be her greatest hymn. One day, in 1868, Doane dropped by and
said, "Miss Fanny, I have but a few minutes before my train
leaves for Cincinnati but first, will you do me a favor before I board that train? I want a new hymn which I can introduce for the first time at a convention that will capture the
hearts and imaginations of the young people and children.
There is to be a great statewide Sunday School convention in
Cincinnati next month and, in addition to the large
delegations of adults, many young people and children are expected to be present. We really need this new hymn."
Having the tune already composed, he said, "Listen
closely," and turning to the piano, he sat down and played
his new tune in a rousing and stirring manner. Fanny said,
"Your music says, `Safe in the Arms of Jesus.'" Going to her
desk, she took out a piece of paper, found her pen, sat down,
and began to write. As he played, she continued to write. She
folded the paper, placed it in an envelope and handed it to
her friend. Because his train was leaving in thirty-five minutes, she exclaimed, "Read it on the train and hurry, you
don't want to be late!"
On the train, he read the words that Sankey later
made famous, and hearts have been singing ever since. The
stories connected with this hymn are breath-taking. Once, a
hackman, learning that his passenger was Fanny Crosby, took
off his hat and wept. He called a policeman and asked him to
see her safely to the train, adding, "We sang Safe in the
Arms of Jesus at my little girl's funeral last week."
When Bishop James Hannington was brutally murdered
savages in Uganda, Africa, his diary was recovered. In it, he
tells of being dragged away to be murdered while singing Safe
in the Arms of Jesus. He was even laughing at the very agony
of his situation.
A strange story is told in connection with the
1918. A Finnish engineer tells of besieging a town and taking
a number of Red prisoners. Seven of them were to be shot at
dawn the following Monday. One of the doomed men began to
sing this lovely song, Safe in the Arms of Jesus, that he had
learned only three weeks previously from the Salvation Army.
One after another of the comrades fell to their knees and began to pray. The seven asked to be allowed to die with
uncovered faces. With hands raised to Heaven, they sang this
song as they were ushered into eternity. The Finnish engineer, Nordenberg, a former Army Officer, who tells the story,
met Christ Himself that very hour as a result of this
Rescue the Perishing was written on a hot July
in 1869. At a mission, Fanny was addressing a large company
of men, in one of the worst sections of New York City, the
Bowery. During the service she felt impressed that some
mother's boy must be rescued that night or not at all. She
made the plea for salvation and a boy of eighteen came forward and exclaimed, "I promised to meet my mother in heaven
but as I now am living, that will be impossible." Fanny
prayed with this precious soul and he was joyously converted.
He rose from his knees, with a new light in his eyes, and
said, "Now I can meet my mother in heaven, for I have found
her God!" A friend remarked, "Isn't it wonderful what these
rescue missions are doing?" While riding between the Bowery
and Brooklyn, in a hired horse-drawn hack, she started writing because she could not wait until she got home. In her
room, she completed the lines of the hymn before retiring.
The next morning, the words were copied and forwarded to her
friend, Mr. Doane, who immediately composed the tune to which
it has been sung ever since.
Blessed Assurance is her most famous hymn, according
to a hymn poll taken some time back by The Christian Herald.
It placed twelfth in the poll. Of favorite hymns, The Old
Rugged Cross was number one. One of Fanny's close friends,
wife of the founder of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, was Mrs. Joseph Knapp. On one of her visits to the
blind poetess, in 1873, she brought in a melody she had composed. Several times she played it on the piano for Fanny.
Then she asked, "Fanny, what does that tune say to you?" Hesitating but for a moment, she replied, "Blessed assurance,
Jesus is mine!" One of the greatest gospel songs of all time
To God Be the Glory was not really discovered until
1954, when it was introduced to George Beverly Shea in London. It was first sung by Shea and the Billy Graham Crusade
Choir in Toronto in 1955. Since then, it has become a beloved
hymn of the faith. Sankey did include it in his first
hymnbook published in England in 1873, but it was not found
in later subsequent editions published in America.
All the Way My Saviour Leads Me was written in
Fanny needed five dollars one day and she just knelt down and
told the Lord about it. Soon after a stranger knocked at her
door as he just wanted to meet her. As he left, he pressed a
five-dollar bill into her hand. Her first thought was what a
wonderful way the Lord helps me. Immediately, she composed
Close to Thee was written in 1874 also, as S.J.
brought one of his newly composed tunes to her, asking that
she write words for it. As he played it for her on the piano,
she suddenly exclaimed, "That chorus says, Close to Thee!"
Immediately, she wrote the poem.
Saved by Grace was written in 1891. At age 71 she
attended a prayer meeting at which Dr. Howard Crosby spoke. He
talked on the 23rd Psalm using "Grace" as his subject. That
very same week, he died suddenly, and Fanny said to herself,
"I wonder what my first impression of heaven will be?" A moment later, she suddenly answered her own question. "Why, my
eyes will be opened and I will see my Saviour face to face."
A few days later, her publisher friend, L.H. Bigelow, asked
her to write a hymn on "Grace." She wrote the four stanzas
and chorus of Saved by Grace in less than an hour. This poem
was put away in a safe. In 1894, while visiting friends in
Sankey's home, in Northfield, Massachusetts, she was prevailed upon to speak. Concluding her talk, she read this poem
that she had written three years earlier. A reporter from The
London Christian took her poem with him to England and published it. When Sankey found this out, he prevailed upon
George Stebbins to compose some music for it.
Other hymns had interesting beginnings. I Am Thine
Lord was a result of an earnest conversation on the nearness
of God, with Mr. Doane of Cincinnati; Jesus Is Calling was
sent to Stebbins for music upon his return from an evangelistic tour in Scotland, in 1883; Near the Cross was the result
of Doane stating, "I want a new song to sing tonight in the
evangelistic service." Saviour More Than Life to Me came as a
result of a tune which Doane sent Fanny, requesting a song on
the theme of "every day and hour."
The hymn-poems came-with many composers adding
music. One time Philip Phillips brought her forty subjects
for hymns. He returned several days later and, surprisingly,
discovered that she had completed them all. She dictated all
of them to him entirely from memory.
The years that saw her more famous songs first
published were as follows: 1867, More Like Jesus; 1868, Safe in
the Arms of Jesus (the year it was written); 1869, Near the
Cross, Praise Him; 1870, Pass Me Not, Rescue the Perishing;
1871, To the Work; 1873, Blessed Assurance, To God Be the
Glory; 1874, Close to Thee; 1875, I Am Thine O Lord, All the
Way My Saviour Leads Me, Saviour More Than Life to Me; 1876,
Tho Your Sins Be as Scarlet, Will Jesus Find Us Watching;
1880, 'Tis the Blessed Hour of Prayer; 1882, Redeemer; 1883,
Jesus Is Calling; 1887, He Is Coming Man of Sorrows (under
the Alice Monteith pseudonym); 1890, He Hideth My Soul; 1894,
Saved By Grace, I Shall Know Him.
For a long period of time she was under contract
write three hymns a week for a New York publishing firm,
Bigelow and Main. They purchased 5,900 poems from her and in
her declining years of health provided a regular allowance
Her books of poems published were in addition to
first book of 1844 mentioned previously: Monterey and Other
Poems (1849); A Wreath of Columbia's Flowers (1859); Bells At
Evening and Other Poems (1898); and Memories of Eighty Years
Sankey did more than any other single individual
popularize and immortalize Fanny Crosby's songs. The great
crowds who thronged the Moody-Sankey revivals sang her songs
until they became part of the heritage of that generation.
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. A famous saying through the years was, "Don't
waste any sympathy on me. I am the happiest person living."
Fanny remained active until her death. At age 92,
enjoyed her first visit to Harvard. Her latter days were
spent in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with a Mrs. Booth, who
cared for her. Shortly before her death, she penned her last
lines"You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye
and bye." On her last night, she dictated a letter of comfort
to a sorrowing friend, whose daughter had recently died. At
three o'clock the next morning, Mrs. Booth found Fanny unconscious. She slipped away to the loving Saviour just short of
her 95th birthday.
Her funeral filled the church with friends. The
sang her favorite song, Faith of Our Fathers, then her own,
Safe in the Arms of Jesus and Saved by Grace. Her minister,
George M. Brown, of the Methodist church, said it well:
There must have been a royal welcome when this queen of sacred song burst the bonds of death and passed into the glories of heaven.
At her funeral were read words from Eliza Edmunds
Hewitt, the last verse of a poem freshly written. It said:
Goodbye, dearest Fanny, goodbye for a while; You walk in the
shadows no more; Around you, the sunbeams of glory will
smile; The Lamb is the light of that Shore!
You will find a casual quote on her grave in
Bridgeport, Connecticut: "She hath done what she could!"
Buried close by is P.T. Barnum, the circus tycoon, who laid
up treasures on earth while Fanny's treasures were laid up in