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Frances Jane Crosby
by Pat Callan

he 19th century poet Frances (Fanny) J. Crosby was a celebrity in her era. Her most famous and frequently published hymns, "Blessed Assurance," "To God Be the Glory" and "I Am Thine O Lord" are still included in the hymnals of all the major Protestant denominations. Her words have connected millions through their power, not only during the 19th century, but are still uniting millions throughout the world. While far-reaching fame would be remarkable for anyone and the dream of many, in Fanny's era it was especially uncommon for women writers. Her prolific capacity for penning poems and hymns was astonishing because Frances Jane Crosby was blind.

At six weeks of age, Fanny's mother, Mercy, noticed an infection in her baby's eyes. The village doctor was away; her mother called in a man who professed medical knowledge. He prescribed poultices on the eyes, probably mustard, the cure-all for everything then. When the treatment failed, the quack disappeared. Decades later, as knowledge in the field of ophthalmology improved, it was theorized that Fanny's loss of vision was probably congenital.

The Crosbys traced their roots to the early Massachusetts Bay Colony; the first ancestors to arrive on Massachusetts soil in 1635 were Simon and Ann Crosby. Simon bought several acres of land in Cambridge and in 1636 he was elected a "freeman" which bound him to order the towne's affayres for this yeare following and to advance the peace and welfare of the Massachusetts Bay. A bit of a name dropper, Fanny proudly boasted that Harvard was built on some of Simon's land. These Yankee connections meant a great deal to Fanny who was able to join the prestigious Daughters of the Mayflower. Her mother was known to tell anyone who asked, the early Yankee heritage of the Crosbys and their Puritan philosophies. I would posit that the Puritan traits of duty—both religious and civic, intellectual rigor, and moral rectitude maintained by the Crosby descendents were the foundation of the dedication and achievements of Frances Jane Crosby, poet and hymn writer.

The art of unlocking the intelligence in one who has no visual frame of reference was just beginning in the mid-eighteen fifties. Schools like Perkins School for the Blind and The New York Institution for the Blind had not yet opened. There was no help for parents of blind infants and no early intervention for blind children. However, Fanny's remarkable grandmother, Eunice, was a woman of extraordinary common sense, maternal intuition, a literal belief in the Bible and God, joined with devotion to her granddaughter. Eunice stretched Fanny's imagination and described the world to her: the birds and their colors, their calls, flowers and their scents, trees, leaves, rocks, shapes, the entire world of nature. It is striking how many vivid descriptive phrases in Fanny's hymn texts and poems seem to have come from a sighted person. Her pre-kindergarten education was her grandmother's school. In her autobiography Fanny said her grandmother, "… meant more to me than I can ever express in word or pen…." (Blumhofer 20)

Consider what it must be like to feel the sun on one's face, to sense the time of day by the shifting of the sun, to hear it described but never to see it rise or set. This absence in Fanny's life is grieved in several poems.

Yon glorious orb that gilds the azure skies,
Sheds not a ray to cheer these sightless eyes;
The dewy lawn, mild nature's sylvan bowers,
To trace these lovely scenes must ne'er be ours. (Crosby, TBG 37)

However, Fanny's tactile and kinesthetic abilities were developed as she found her way back and forth to the farms where her friends lived by sensing the sun on either side of her face. As a child in the rural town of Southeast, Putnam County, New York, Fanny played with the neighborhood children and could delineate the differences between gravel in a yard, dirt on the road, hard-packed dirt and the loose roadside dirt with weeds. On the farms she learned to count horses' hooves to tell how many were nearby, to sense working horses by the steam rising from their bodies and their smell. She could determine where the cows, pigs and chickens were by their different odors. This was an early indicator of her capacity for learning but the local school was not able to deal with her and Fanny craved education. With other children Fanny was gregarious, fearless and mischievous; those personality traits were always part of her charm.

In her autobiography, she stated, "One of the earliest resolves that I formed in my young and joyous heart was to leave all care to yesterday…when the morrow dawned I generally have (sic) found that the human spirit can take on the rosy tints of the reddening east." This early resolve, optimism, and ferocious determination, even at the age of eight, are shown in the following :

Oh, what a happy soul I am,
         although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
         I will contented be.
How many blessings I enjoy
         though other people don't!
To weep and sigh because I'm blind
         I cannot and I won't. (Crosby, AAB 32)

A move to the larger town of Ridgefield, Connecticut in the early 1820s, where Mercy Crosby found employment, was an important factor in young Fanny's education. In Ridgefield, Mercy Crosby hired out as a servant and boarded with one of the prominent families, the Hawleys. (In the early 1800s household servitude did not imply degradation or shame.) Mrs. Hawley, a faithful Presbyterian, took an interest in Fanny and challenged her to memorize the words of the Bible. After many, many repetitions of chapters and verses by Mrs. Hawley, who apparently had the patience for such instruction, Fanny was reciting psalms, the first four books of the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Ruth and reams of poetry. At the Presbyterian Meeting House, Fanny competed fiercely in memorization contests with her sighted Sunday school classmates and was usually the victor. Later, Fanny was to comment that Mrs. Hawley's Biblical literalism did not preclude a creative imagination. Memorizing scripture was early training for Fanny's remarkable memory.

Fanny's arrival in Ridgefield coincided with the singing schools movement in the United States, its development initiated by the music educator, Lowell Mason. While the singing schools were set upon improving congregational singing, they were not solely responsible for the interest in communal singing; popular music was also on the rise. Steeped in the "homegrown" music of the Presbyterian Meeting House, which Fanny thought "tedious," she was also introduced to a different body of hymns at the Methodist Meeting. Through the words of the early hymn text writers Watts, Newton, and the Wesleys, John and Charles, she became aware of the strength and power of congregational singing. This early exposure would have a profound influence in her writing as well as leading to an ecumenical approach in her hymns. The graceful rhymes of Charles Wesley, as well as his direct address to the blind in the famous hymn "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" must surely have been heard and absorbed by Fanny. (UMH, 57)

The women in Fanny's young life: her mother Mercy, Grandmother Eunice and Mrs. Hawley were strong role models. They were hardworking, practical women to whom gender was not an obstacle; each determined that blindness in a child would not be a barrier and who gave her love, wisdom, advice, the world of literature, including the Bible, integrated with a life of faith. They prepared her for a future at The New York Institution for the Blind. (At this point we should note that she could distinguish light but not objects.)

In March 1835, her intellectual curiosity driving her almost frantic need for an education, Fanny, at the age of 14, arrived as a residential student at The New York Institution for the Blind. In her 1903 life story she wrote:

I had long been contented to bear the burden of blindness but my education— my education—how was I to get it? …I felt I was growing more ignorant every day. God help those who long for education and find every way of obtaining it cut off! (Crosby 29, L-S)

When Fanny enrolled, the Institution for the Blind occupied large quarters with 41 scholars, a superintendent, two assistant teachers, a music master, a basket maker, a weaver, a gardener, and house servants. Although many in the general culture were skeptical of education for the blind, the supporters of the New York Institution, including John Jacob Astor, were optimistic. (While Braille was available in 1824 and in use in France, it was not practiced world-wide before 1854. Surprisingly, it was not until the early 1900's that it came into favor in the United States.) On meeting the Superintendent, who spent three years in Greece, Fanny was impressed to learn that he had been a friend of Lord Byron."I shall never forget the thrill of delight, upon meeting someone who had actually known the great poet…." (Crosby, 32, Life-Story)

Education at the NYIB was no watered-down curriculum and in her autobiography Fanny recalled learning the entire "pandect" of English grammar; she loved it and all its laws. With her ear for rhyme, she acquired the rules of versification, insisted on by her teachers. It was usual for the students to hear and memorize Longfellow, Tennyson, Whittier, Moore, and William Cullen Bryant. Bryant once visited the school and encouraged Fanny to keep writing poetry. This is how she honored the poets she heard and what they meant to her:

You from whose garners I have gleaned
Such precious fruit, the task has seemed
So pleasant that my humble pen
Would fain resume its work again;
In your bright realms ?twere bliss to stay;
But time forbids and I obey. (Blumhofer 46)

During their free time, students were expected to model proper etiquette; the school hoped to instill in them a sense of duty and obligation. However, it must be remembered that they were teenagers. When some of the stricter teachers tried to restrain conversation between the boys and girls, Fanny revolted. It was noticed that two teachers were becoming fond of each other so to "even accounts" with them, Fanny wrote a mocking poem suggesting they "retire unto some pleasant cot." She got her wish. They left.

Mathematics was Fanny's bête noir, even after intensive tutoring. In her autobiography she says that the superintendent threatened to "put her on the mantle" if she did not learn the multiplication tables. She learned them but after she painfully battled long division, her tutor prevailed on the superintendent to give Fanny another class rather than prolong the agony. Fanny was pleased when he consented.

The Institution frequently used Fanny and her poetry to demonstrate the accomplishments of the blind. On the occasion of the visit by students of the NITB to the New York State Senate, She wrote:

Warm-hearted friends, we smile with you to meet,
We bid you welcome to our dear retreat;
This stately pile a monument doth stand
of your munificence, illustrious band. (TBG 29)

One might argue with her poetic choices here but it's clear that Fanny knew where power lay and was able to couch flattery and a subtle acknowledgement of those who controlled the state budget, in four lines of poetry. This event was also part of a campaign to educate those who equated blindness with lack of intelligence. The attention given Fanny was intoxicating and it was pointed out to her by the superintendent that pride was not appropriate, as all gifts came from God. In retrospect Fanny's "pride" may have been teenage overconfidence. Throughout her life Fanny struggled off and on with the issue of pride. Yet, one could also argue that pride in writing is necessary to write well.

The annual reports of the institution always included one of her poems. In order to publicize the school, visits by celebrities were encouraged. Fanny, of course, was called upon to write and recite poems for the occasions. Among the visitors were Editor Horace Greely who was to publish some of her work, General Winfield Scott, several Presidents and the singer Jenny Lind. On one occasion the Institution hosted the entire New York State Senate. Fanny was exceedingly loyal and appreciative for the education she received at The New York Institution for the Blind and was not one to decline a request that might enhance the school's reputation. She was to deliver many more speeches during her life, usually in poetic form to audiences which included the state legislature of New Jersey and the United States Congress.

Fanny's confidence, established by her grandmother and developed at the NYIB, made her an eloquent spokesperson for the blind, as well as an activist and lobbyist, her vehicle of persuasion— poetry. In 1843 she read a poem before congress as part of a group advocating support for the education of the blind. It was not her last visit to Washington's political scene. In 1844 she returned with others from the NYIB to give a concert. On that occasion she recited a poem, again in support of education for the blind. Two years later, she spoke to a joint session and testified before a special congressional committee, advocating the establishment in every state of a school for the blind. In the audience that day to hear Fanny's plea were: John Quincy Adams, Stephen Douglas of Illinois, Andrew Johnson, Senator from Tennessee, Jefferson Davis, later president of the Confederate States of America and Hannibal Hamlin who became Lincoln's vice-president. Fanny admitted to being nervous but held her own before those prestigious senators. Crosby's social and political opinions were already evident. (Blumhofer 63)

In spring of 1844, her book The Blind Girl was published; the title taken from a long, partially autographical poem of the same name. A fund raiser for the Institution, her book was well received by the public. The poetry varied somewhat, but I believe people related to it because of familiar topics, the feelings they encountered within her lines, written in understandable language unlike some of the overwrought verse published at the time, and of course, because she was blind. A reviewer for the New Mirror wrote, "…eyes could scarce do more! … She talks of 'crimson tints' and 'purple west' and 'stars of the mildest hue' with quite the familiarity of those who see." (Blumhofer 64)

In order to understand why the quality of Fanny's poetry was at times, uneven, one must acknowledge the role of poetry in the culture then. Poetry was everywhere. It was common in newspapers and magazines, was memorized in schools and church, and was featured at public occasions. Other than at the inauguration of the president, or the visit of a poet laureate to a town, we no longer have poetry at important events, unfortunately. However, mid-19th century it was expected. The cultural taste of the Victorian age was wide-ranging. Topics which might be sneered at now—motherhood, the home, the flag, unrequited love—were appreciated by the 19th century reader. The same person (F.C.) who wrote the following lines from "The Indian's Lament": "I hear the Great Spirit whispering now/As I turn to look on thy sunny brow," also wrote "Samson with the Philistines":

His hair had grown. He knew it. But his eyes—
Would they return? Would he again behold
Or sun or moon or stars or human face?
O heaven! In all our catalogue of woes
Can there be one that so afflicts the mind
And rends the very fiber of the heart
Like that which comes, when in our riper years
We lose, and by a single stroke of Thine,
That sense, which of all others, most we prize… (Ruffin 51, 52)

These poignant lines also give us insight into Fanny's psyche. She had stated that she was contented with her loss of sight, yet her words here reflect a profound sense of grief and identification with Samson.

A mere 4 feet 9 inches tall and never more than 100 pounds, Fanny paid a price for the demands on her talents. All her performances, teaching, touring, book preparation, writing, and the pressures of daily life wore her out. In the summer of 1844 she returned to her mother's home in Bridgeport, Connecticut to recuperate from a physical collapse, at the age of 24. Many feared she was near death.

In ten years she had completed the curriculum at NYIB and in March 1858 Fanny left the Institution to marry Alexander van Alstine, a former student at the school. She moved from Manhattan to rural Maspeth, New York, where "Van" was working. Their domestic arrangements seem unusual; they moved often, sometimes living together and at other times, apart. While Fanny wrote copiously, there is no reflection on marriage and her relationship with her husband. The following verse may be a comment on what happened between them or perhaps, a plea for reconciliation:

O come, if thou art true to me,
If yet thou lov'st me well,
And meet me at our trysting place
Within the mossy dell…

Yes, meet me as when first we met
Beneath a summer sky.
Long, long before our lips had learned
That cruel word, good-bye. (Blumhofer 63)

Her autobiography, which includes "The Wish," may also comment:

I ask a heart—a faithful heart—
         Congenial with my own,
Whose deep unchanging love shall burn
         for me and me alone… (Crosby, AA 237)

It could be that she had not found that congenial companion in her marriage. Much later she revealed that she became a mother in 1859 but never spoke publicly about it, so it is impossible to know whether the child was a girl or boy. However, her poetic output includes several poems on the death of a child. When Van died in July 1902, Fanny's reaction was contained and strange. On learning of his death, she retired to her room and wrote a poem with the unemotional, even cold title, "I Am Satisfied." The content is a complete contrast with the effusiveness of her hymns and the usual sentiments of her writing.

…And tho'at times the things I ask
In love are oft denied,
I know he gives me what is best,
And I am satisfied. (Blumenhofer 312)

There is no doubt though, how Crosby felt about the Civil War, her social conscience already well developed and evident in earlier poems about Ireland. Fanny must have known about the famine there as immigrants crowded into the ports of the United States. The collection Monterey, 1851, includes these lines from "Erin":

Too long, oppression's galling chain,
Thou injur'd isle, thy sons have worn!
Crush'd and despis'd, their rights profaned;
Oh, say, shall wrongs like these be borne? (Crosby, Monterey 185)

She was equally clear concerning the immorality of slavery. At the time hundreds of songs and poems poured forth from the Northern presses and Fanny wrote passionately in the manner of the time. While none of her lyrics reached the heights of "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Boys are Marching," her pro-union lyrics, to be sung to familiar tunes, were published as broadsides. Fanny's jingoistic love of country was part of her makeup. There was an almost unimaginable incident in a Manhattan restaurant where, a southern lady, seeing the flag on Fanny's blouse, became hysterical, snapping, "Take that dirty rag away from here." Fanny retaliated, challenging with, "Repeat that remark at your own risk!" The manager had to intervene. (Ruffin 84)

Unlike her previous writings which sometimes gushed, Crosby's patriotic verse seethed with militant pride; one defiant poem challenged Jefferson Davis to cross the Mason-Dixon Line. Another, using the gory metaphor of amputation, likened the loss of an arm to the loss of even one state in the union. This was a huge departure for the often sentimental writer.

Good-by old arm— that strong right arm
?Twas once my pride to wield;
?twill never bear the sword again
my country's flag to shield. (Blumhofer 96,97 )

While Crosby's poetry was already very well known, her fame as a hymn writer began to grow; the mid -1800's was a time when people took religion very seriously, the result of what religious historians refer to as The Second Great Awakening. (In adolescence Emily Dickinson struggled with the social pressures of The Second Great Awakening and stopped attending church.) (bigread.org) In this era of revivalism, church membership gave people a community and was central to social life. Fanny was known to attend different churches in Manhattan but did not formally become a Methodist until 1887. Her ecumenical approach to church attendance may have led her toward an inclusive approach to hymn writing. Previous to Fanny's hymns, texts were replete with images of damnation, blood, judgment and overwrought Victorian language as in this example:

Let this hardened heart of stone
melt beneath the purple shower
from his body trickling down. (Miller, 32)

Her deep faith was more thoughtful about hymn writing.

…the most enduring hymns are born in the silences of the soul, and nothing must be allowed to intrude while they are being framed into language…. sometimes the song without words has a deeper meaning than the more elaborate combinations of words and music. But in the majority of instances these two must be joined in marriage.

Fanny was employed by the music publishing firm of Biglow and Main during the day and often had speaking engagements at night, so usually wrote hymns in the early morning hours. She spoke of her writing process:

It has been a custom to hold a little book in my hand, and somehow the words seem to come more promptly when I am so engaged. I can also remember more accurately when the little volume is in my grasp…. Sometimes a hymn comes to me by stanzas and only needs to be written down, but I never have any portion of a poem committed to paper until the entire poem is composed; then there is much pruning and revising necessary before it is really finished.

She had firm ideas about the collaborative process and the poet's role in it.

…the poet must put his (sic) thoughts, aspirations, and emotions into metrical form in a way that the music composer can readily grasp the spirit of the poem. Then he can write music that will perfectly express the poet's meaning."

In her 1903 "Life-Story" she also said, "For if there is a false accent or a mistake in meter, the hymn cannot have much chance of proving a success, or at least the possibilities are very much lessened." (125)

Crosby had several musical collaborators but her most frequent partner in hymn writing was organist and singer, Ira Sankey, who became a lifelong friend. Sankey was dominant in the evangelical movement of the time and was known on one occasion to have calmed an unruly crowd by exhorting them to sing three stanzas of Fanny's hymn, "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." When he toured the British Isles on a religious crusade with renowned preacher Dwight Moody, the two insisted on altering the singing practices of the populace and published a hymnal Hallowed Songs specifically for their project. Hallowed Songs included some of Fanny's early texts along with the usual fare of Watts, Wesley and Newton. It was a financial and "sociological" success. Shortly after his return to New York, Sankey published a small American hymnal Gospel Hymns and Sacred Solos; this also was snapped up by the public. The first hymn of Fanny's was #4, the often sung "Safe in the Arms of Jesus;" eight others were also included. The demand for the hymnals was so great that over a million were sold in 1876. Sales reached five million after five reprints. In Fanny's later years Sankey contributed financially to Fanny's well being.

Another writing partner was the wealthy Methodist benefactor, Phoebe Palmer Knapp. Phoebe Knapp was a gifted, untrained musician who edited hymnals for Sunday schools, often including her own hymns, and those by Fanny and her husband Van, who wrote the music. The celebrated hymn "Blessed Assurance", the text in dactylic meter, was the result of the collaboration of Knapp and Crosby in 1873.

In the history of Protestant hymnody, the popularity of "Blessed Assurance" must be appreciated. Not only was it immediately embraced by the Methodists, The Disciples of Christ, the Methodist Churches of Canada and the Church of the Brethren Dunkers, it has crossed racial and language barriers. Among the languages into which "Blessed Assurance" has been translated are Mandarin, Korean, German, Bulgarian, and French, as well as American Sign Language. It is still included in the hymnals of the major protestant denominations today. Had she written no other hymns, her place in American Hymnody would still be secure. "Blessed Assurance" appeared just as copyright law was being seriously discussed. Phoebe Knapp's husband, an astute and successful businessman, copyrighted everything she wrote, including "Blessed Assurance."

Why has this hymn endured? This writer theorizes that it is due to the refrain, its words melded to the buoyant melody by Phoebe Knapp. "This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior all the daylong", repeated twice, is a triumphant affirmation. Everyone has a story that they need and want to tell and Fanny's Crosby's prodigious memory was the repository of all the stories she had ever heard.

It would be impossible to examine all the hymns Fanny wrote as her output has been estimated to be in the thousands, bearing in mind in mind that she had many pseudonyms and her work was published in hundreds of hymnals, as well as in several different places by her collaborators. Additionally, for most of her life she was under contract to produce two hymns a week for the publishers Bigelow and Main. Many of her texts were not set to music and are still archived at The Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College, Hope Publishing Company (successor to Bigelow and Main) and the Newbury Library in Chicago.

Fanny Crosby was an accomplished musician, a more than adequate pianist which no doubt was an aid as she blended music and text, reaching, as she has said, the perfect marriage of both. Certain themes emerge from her hymns, at the same time revealing some things about the writer. A typical Crosby hymn is optimistic, seeks humility, self-sacrifice, contrition and grace. The speaker (or singer) expresses trust in the Lord, asks for instruction, and addresses God as a friend. Many of Fanny's hymns are written in the first person, an indication of her strong faith beautifully expressed. They are vividly imaginative and use metaphors that one would think came from a sighted person. Her use of words like "vision" and "sight", as well as a phrase like "now burst on my sight" has a tinge of regret. She often speaks of a desire to be physically close to God, to enjoy his closeness, coupled with a sense of contrition and humility. I sense some loneliness on the hymn writer's part in the fourth verse of "Pass me Not O Gentle Savior."

Thou the spring of all my comfort,
more than life to me,
whom have I on earth beside thee?
Whom in heaven but thee? (UMH 351)

It's hard to imagine that this petite woman had such an influence on the religious movements of her day. She was able to hold her own with the largely male Protestant movers and shakers while not being intimidated by them. They respected her work and it was sought after by all the important contemporary religious figures and church musicians.

However, it may be that there were some who thought less of her hymn texts. In the 1865 publication of Our Hymns: Their Authors and Stories by Josiah Miller, Fanny's hymns are missing, although other women writers and composers are included. One speculates that either envy or theological disapproval could account for her omission.

Could her poetry have been better written? Some poems were weak no doubt, but she was certainly on a par with the prominent writers of the time: Bryant, George Pope Morris, Eliza Cooke. The Crosby scholar Bernard Ruffin lists her accomplishments: "…she was a regular contributor to the poetry columns of various New York newspapers…She had poetic battles with her friend William Wye Smith…She published four books of poetry: The Blind Girl, Monterey and Other Poems, A Wreath of Columbia's Flowers, and Bells at Evening. George Henry Sandison, 19th century literary critic, said that Fanny was "naturally a classical poet," and that, when it came to secular verse, hers was frequently of an excellent quality, of which the "Imaginative power and beauty would astonish those who knew her only as the writer of the sweet and simple songs of the Gospel." (Ruffin 52)

In examining her poems and hymns, we must appreciate her skill and intellect, not only as a blind poet, but as a real "poetess", as she called herself. One must recognize her exceptional imaginative use of language as exemplified in "Raindrop," a 56 line poem written in tetrameter couplets, a meter she used frequently. The poem moves from the point of view of the raindrop, as if the speaker were inside the droplet, to that of the breeze moving the raindrop from place to place. There is a case to be made that only someone who lived solely inside the mind could write such a poem. (Crosby, Monterey 29)

Crosby's empathetic faculty is evident in her many poems about loss, such as "The Hindoo (sic) Mother," and social justice, such as "The Naked Child." (Crosby, Monterey 64) The vast examination of subject matter in her poetry is witness to her capacious memory. During the 19th century fascination with phrenology, she wrote the following contemplation on death and time, after examining a watch inside a skull:

Why should I fear it? Once the pulse of life
Throbbed in these temples, pale and bloodless now.
Here, reason sat enthroned, its empire held
O'er infant thought, and thought to action grown. (Blumhofer 52)

Fanny even examined the workings of her memory, saying,

The books of the mind are just as real and tangible, as those of the desk and library shelves—if only we will use them enough to keep their binding flexible, and their pages free from dust. (F.C., L-S 126,127)

Some people elevated her to the status of a protestant saint; however, while it is clear she did lead an exemplary disciplined and creative life, Frances Jane Crosby herself would have declined sainthood. She didn't escape life's issues, held strong, even fanatical, political opinions, and was not above practical jokes. The frequent separations during her marriage and her strange reaction to her husband's death also raise questions, and it's clear she suffered occasional bouts with depression, admitting to "moods" when she wasn't able to write.

However, like many artistic people, Fanny Crosby couldn't help revealing herself in her work. One finds, especially in her hymns, loneliness and a desire for physical closeness. The phrases "…whom on earth have I beside thee. Whom in heaven but thee?" found in "Pass Me Not, O Blessed Savior" as well as "would I seek thy face" speak not only of a wish for touch but of loneliness and loss of vision. There is no evidence that Fanny was deprived of love as a child, yet, one hymn is entitled "Close to Thee" in which the writer barters fame and ease in order to attain eternity. The refrain is a direct plea for physical proximity. (UMH, 351)

What was it that attracted people to Fanny? She apparently made friends easily by the power of her personality and intelligence. Through her poetry she knew a large circle of poets and publishers. Her hymn writing and church work associates included the most accomplished people in the field. She was a close friend of Presidents Grover Cleveland, James K. Polk and James Buchanan, and of others in the field of politics. The so-called "Queen of the Gospel Song Writers" was famous, as renowned in her day as Ethel Waters, Billy Graham or Mahalia Jackson. One must remember though, that before she reached world-wide, long lasting fame through her hymns, she was well regarded and enjoyed public recognition for her poetry.

It was Fanny's wish to be remembered as a mission worker but history has not obliged. Instead, her hymns have sustained her memory and history has claimed her as perhaps the most famous female gospel hymn writer in American hymnody. Her ability to reach millions through the simple, understandable and emotional content of her religious poetry set to music has made her a woman of immense power. When Frances Jane Crosby passed away in February 1915, at the age of 95, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, her funeral was attended by thousands and was the largest the city had ever seen.

Contributed by Patricia Callan


Crosby, Frances J. Life-Story, Every Where Publishing Company, 1903

Crosby, Fanny J. An Autobiography, Baker House Books, 1906

Crosby, Frances J. The Blind Girl and Other Poems, Wiley and Putnam, 1844

Crosby, Frances J. Monterey and Other Poems,1851 Crosby, Frances J. Bells at Evening

Blumhofer, Edith L. Her Heart Can Sing, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2005

Miller, Josiah. Our Hymns Their Authors and Origins, 1866, Jackson, Wolford and Hodden, London, Library of Congress

Prescott, J.D., Christian Hymns and Hymn Writers, 1886, Deighton, Bell and Co., Cambridge

Ruffin, Bernard. Fanny Crosby. United Church Press, 1976

Other Sources:

Louis Braille and The Braille System, Duxbury Systems

NEA Big Read.

The Hymn Society of the United States and Canada

Perkins School for the Blind Research Library

Frances (Fanny) Crosby
Years: 1825-1915
Birthplace: USA
Language(s): English
Forms: formal verse, dramatic monologue, sonnet, epithalamion, blank verse, occasional verse, hymn texts
Subjects: nature, patriotism, history, social justice, philosophy, the Bible, religion, family, everyday actions, emotions, complications of death, healing and grief, blindness
Entry By: Patricia Callan
32 Poems
The Academy of American Poets
The Atlantic
The Christian Science Monitor
The Cortland Review
Favorite Poem Project
The Frost Place
The Iowa Review
Light Quarterly
Modern American Poetry
The Poem Tree
Poetry Daily
Poetry Society of America
Poets House
Raintown Review
String Poet
Valparaiso Poetry Review
Verse Daily
Women's Poetry Listserv
The Yale Review

Bread Loaf
Poetry by the Sea


Barefoot Muse Press
David Robert Books
David R. Godine Press
Graywolf Press
Headmistress Press
The Johns Hopkins University Press
Louisiana State University Press
Northwestern Univ Press
Ohio Univ Press
Persea Books
Red Hen Press
Texas Tech Univ Press
Tupelo Press
Univ of Akron Press
Univ of Arkansas Press
Univ of Illinois Press
Univ of Iowa Press
Waywiser Press
White Violet Press

City Lights
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Joseph Fox Bookshop
Prairie Lights
Tattered Cover Bookstore

92nd Street Y
Literary Mothers
Poets & Writers