“The Hymn Queen”
Frances Jane Crosby was born on Marcy 24, 1820 in Southeast Putnam County, New York to John and Mercy Crosby. When Frances “Fanny” Crosby was just 6 weeks old she had developed a cold in her eyes. The family doctor was away at the time and another country doctor was called in to treat her eyes. He told Fanny’s mother that the best prescription to help her eyes was to put hot mustard poultices on her eyes. Instead of her eyes getting better it had the opposite effect. The corneas on Fanny’s eyes got burnt and scars formed over her eyes, as result little Fanny became blind. When they went to find the doctor who had caused the blindness he had left town and was never heard from again. It was later found out that the doctor who had caused the blindness was not even qualified to practice medicine. To make matters worse just a year after she was blinded by the doctor, her father died, leaving Fannie’s 21 year old mother to provide for herself and her daughter. As result Fanny’s mother took a job being an aid and during the day Fanny’s grandmother, Eunice Crosby, would take care of her. It would be through Eunice that Fannie although blind would be able to see the world around her.
Fanny and her grandmother would spend hours walking in the meadow where Eunice would describe the sights and sounds around her in vivid detail. Fanny would set for hours setting next to an old rocking chair where Eunice would describe to her the intricate details of the flowers and birds around her, and things such as the beauty of the sunrise and sunsets. Fanny would later say of her grandmother “My grandmother was more to me than I can ever express by word or pen.” A landlady of the Crosby’s also had an important role in Fanny’s development. A lady named Mrs. Hawley helped Fanny memorize the Bible, and often the young girl learned five chapters a week. She knew the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many of the Psalms by heart. She developed a memory which often amazed her friends, but Fanny believed she was no different from others. Her blindness had simply forced her to develop her memory and her powers of concentration more than most.
Although Fanny was blind she didn’t consider herself to be handicap or different from the others children. In fact she was able to do many of the other things that children that could were able to see could do. She accepted her blindness with a very positive outlook and attitude, and could be seen through a poem she wrote when she was just 8 years old when she wrote:
‘O what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
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.’
Years later Fanny would say that these words that she wrote when she was eight years old were the motto of her life.
At the age of 15 Fanny enrolled in the New York Institution for the Blind that she would attend for 11 years, and received a great education. At the age of fifteen Fanny entered the New York Institution for the Blind where she received a great education. Although the braille system had not been invented yet and most of the studies were through lectures, it caused Fanny to have to memorize what she heard, and she was phenomenal at retaining information. Fanny learned so quickly and so completely even years later she could recite the entire contents of her grammar text. In 1843 she became a teacher at the institution where she taught English grammar, rhetoric, Roman and American history till 1858. During this time she started to gain notoriety as a poet and had the chance to meet many important people such as President James K. Polk and Henry Clay. She got to recite her poetry before Senators and Representatives in Congress Assembly Hall in front of individuals such as Jefferson Davis and former president John Quincy Adams. It was said that after finishing her poem, the applause from the crowd was so deafening it sounded like thunder and the encore from the crowd so moving it left may Congressmen in tears. In fact Fanny was the first woman whose voice was heard publicly in the Senate chamber in Washington.
While she was at the institution she taught a young man named Alexander Van Alstyne, and after obtaining his teaching certificate, he returned to the Institute as a music teacher. It would be there that Fanny and Alexander fell in love and had a deep connection with one another for their love of music and poetry. Although Alexander was 11 years younger than Fanny they got married on March 5, 1858. It was in 1864 that Fanny’s life began to be used of God greatly when she began writing Sunday school hymns for Wm. B. Bradbury. He told Fanny that she should dedicate her life to writing for God, and from that time on she never again wrote another secular song. From that point on Fanny Crosby would become the “hymn queen” as she would go on in her lifetime to write over 9,000 hymns. This is quite amazing considering she didn’t start even writing hymns till she was in her forties. Wm. Bradbury was so aspired by her gift of writing hymns that he hired her to write hymns for his company and said to her “While I have a publishing house, you will always have work!” Fanny in writing her hymns said ““It may seem a little old-fashioned, always to begin one’s work with prayer, but I never undertake a hymn without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration.” Many of the church hymns that Fanny wrote are still very popular today and have affected thousands of individuals lives. These hymns include “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” “Blessed Assurance,” “I love to tell the story,” among many others. Many of her hymns spoke to social issues of the day such as the temperance act and issues regarding child labor. She was known to compose nearly six or seven hymns in a day, and she set a goal of winning a million individuals to Christ through her hymns. Interestingly Fanny wrote so many hymns that at times she would meet someone singing a hymn seemingly unfamiliar to her, only to find out upon inquiring that it was one of her own.
Fanny for her hymns was only paid about a dollar or two for each one that she wrote, which was enough for her and her husband to have a comfortable income. Instead Fanny gave most of what she got away that was not necessary for what they needed for daily survival. As result Fanny and her husband lived in a small apartment in Manhatten’s Lower East Side. This was close to one of Manhattan’s slums and just a few blocks from the Bowery that was well known for its “haunt for hopeless alcoholics and the main artery of a thriving red light district and pornographic center.” She would often times go out and spend time with the homeless and the hopeless, sharing the gospel with them to bring them to Christ. Fanny held to a positive outlook all her life and never considered her blindness to be a curse but a blessing. She once said “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.“At one point a Scottish minister said to her how awful it must be that God didn’t give her any sight. She startled him by responding, “If I had been given a choice at birth I would have asked to be blind… for when I get to Heaven, the first face I will see will be the One who died for me.”
When Fanny was 90 years old she said “My love for the Holy Bible and it sacred truth is stronger and more precious to me at ninety than at nineteen.” When asked about her long life and the secret to it, she said that she guarded her taste, her temper, and her tongue. Fanny lived a long life for the glory of God, and her God inspired hymns has and still does affect millions of lives. Fanny Jane Crosby “The Hymn Queen” died on February 12, 1915 in New Jersey at the age of 94, and buried close to the famed PT Barnum. Reverend Alfred T. Day in regards to Fanny said “Fanny Crosby was not held back at all by her blindness. And probably the words of her poetry and hymns helped more people to see and know and experience Jesus as anybody with two working eyes and 20/20 vision.”