Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)

The American hymn writer Fanny Crosby (a.k.a. Frances Van Alstyne), though blind almost from birth, was one of the most prolific and well-loved hymn writers of all time. As a child she learnt large passages of scripture by heart, including the four Gospels. Her musical abilities were encouraged when she attended the New York Institute for the Blind, and she published her first hymn at the age of fifteen. An essentially practical person, she taught at the Institute herself and even served as a nurse during the cholera epidemic of 1848. In 1858 she married another musician, Alexander Van Alstyne.

Fanny Crosby had a remarkable gift for composing popular hymns and sacred songs: one New York publisher paid her to provide three new hymns per week - but there were many more than that. She wrote many hymns for the Sankey and Moody revival meetings, under her own name as well as an astonishing 216 aliases! In the well known Sacred Songs and Solos, at least 121 items are known to be by Crosby. In all, she is credited with composing words, music or both, to around 8,000 hymns!

She had a life-long correspondence with her British counterpart, Frances Ridley Havergal, another prolific hymn writer who wrote a poem about Crosby in which she described her friend as "seeing with her heart"; indeed, Crosby often refers in her hymns to "watching and waiting" or "seeing the Lord". Her hymns and songs are joyful, solidly scriptural, and speak of the assurance of salvation.

Fanny Crosby lived to the age of 95. She supported a number of missions and women's organisations and often preached at missionary meetings herself. At the age of ninety, she was able to say:

My love for the Bible and its sacred truth is stronger and more precious at ninety than at nineteen. This Book is God's treasure-house, my bread of life, the anchor of my hope, the lantern that lights my pathway home.

We still enjoy some of her up-beat hymns of praise, redolent of the great revivals of the 19th century, like Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine and To God be the Glory.

Rowena Edlin-White
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 17th June 2004