Born on March 24, 1820, in New York, Frances (Fanny) Jane Crosby was a teacher, poet, lyricist, and hymn writer. She is best remembered today as the author of about 9,000 Christian hymns.
In her infancy, Fanny became ill and was seen by an unqualified doctor who gave her a faulty treatment that ended up blinding her for life. Although her blindness could have been a source of bitterness, Fanny refused self-pity and chose to focus on the Lord. In response to expressions of regret over her blindness, Fanny said, “If at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind. Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior” (quoted at www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/poets/fanny-crosby.html, accessed 8/26/20).
Mainly raised by her Christian grandmother, young Fanny Crosby began learning entire chapters of the Bible. Over time, this led to the memorization of entire books of Scripture, including the gospels and Proverbs. At the age of 15, Fanny began attending the New York Institution for the Blind. During her studies and later during her teaching years as part of the faculty at the school, she began to cultivate her ability for writing poetry, which she had begun at an early age. She began submitting some of her poems to newspapers, and the New York Herald published her poem eulogizing President William Henry Harrison. By the time she was 23, Crosby was speaking before Congress and meeting Presidents. In 1844 she published her first book of poetry, The Blind Girl and Other Poems, and six years later she began writing popular songs. She had a conversion experience at the age of 31 and joined the Old John Street Methodist Church, the first Methodist church in America. In 1858 she married Alexander Van Alstyne, Jr., another blind teacher at the school where Crosby taught. When she was 44 years old, she began writing hymns.
Crosby’s hymns had a wide impact and were published in several different denominational hymnals. She wrote so many hymns that she sometimes used a pen name so that her name was not the prominent one in hymnals. D. L. Moody and song leader and composer Ira Sankey made use of Crosby’s hymns during their evangelism crusades, and they credited her work as a part of their success.
Typically, Crosby would compose the hymns in her mind and have someone write them down. Because of her strong memorization skills, she could compose and remember many hymns at the same time. Her husband regularly assisted in transcribing her hymns and setting them to music. Crosby longed for her hymns to bring people into a relationship with Christ, and she set a personal goal of reaching a million people for Christ through the songs she wrote.
A lesser-known aspect of the life of Fanny Crosby is her participation in rescue and mission work. She also helped to care for those who were affected by the cholera epidemic of 1849, even at the risk of her own life. Crosby was also an advocate for the temperance movement and a member of the Christian Women’s Temperance Union, headed by fellow Christian Frances Willard.
Some of Fanny Crosby’s most popular hymns are “Blessed Assurance,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Savior, More Than Life to Me,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” and “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.” Crosby died on February 11, 1915, at the age of 94.