What do Ruth Harmon, Florence Booth, Emily Prentiss, and Robert Bruce have in common? They are all pen names for one of the most prolific hymnists the world has ever known — Fanny Crosby, who was born on March 24, 1820. Thousands of hymns ranging from “Blessed Assurance” to “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” bear her name or one of her pseudonyms.
America’s Blind Hymnist
By the world’s standards, Fanny Crosby had a very unhappy childhood. A quack doctor scarred her eyes with hot mustard plasters, blinding her at the age of six weeks. Her father died when she was only one year old. Her mother had to seek work as a maid, leaving Fanny with her grandmother for training and companionship. But these trials proved to be helps to Fanny rather than hindrances. Her grandmother was a godly woman, who went to great pains to bring her young charge to Jesus. The landlady also exerted a beneficial influence, helping Fanny memorize as many as five chapters of the Bible a week. And as for blindness, Fanny considered it to be one of her greatest blessings because it kept her focused on God instead of on the things of the world.
Fanny proved to have a genius for poetry at the early age of eight and in her twenties began earning considerable royalties on her popular songs. Hymn-writing did not begin until she made a definite commitment to serve the Lord some ten years later. Then joy began to bubble up inside her until by the time she was forty-three or forty-four it had to come out. Before long she had a contract to write three hymns a week for Sunday school publications. Fanny more than exceeded the requirements, however, often writing lyrics for six or seven hymns every day! Her work soon caught the attention of hymnal publishers, but they were a little reluctant to print a book filled primarily with the hymns of one person; hence the extensive use of pseudonyms.
Because she was blind, Fanny always composed her hymns in her head and dictated them to others when they were finished. This method of working often meant that she was carrying ten or so hymns in her head at a time. It’s little wonder that people marveled at her memory. But not even Fanny could remember all of the hymns she wrote. At church services she sometimes heard a hymn she liked and asked who wrote it, only to find out that it was one of her own.
It is impossible to know for certain how many hymns Fanny Crosby wrote during her lifetime. The best estimate is over 9,000. Most are no longer popular, but at the time they were written they inspired many to share Fanny’s joy and wonder over God’s love. Then on February 12, 1915, Fanny’s eyes were opened, and the first face she saw was that of her Savior.
Fanny Crosby, Blind Hymn Writer, Dies
Obituary in the New York Times.
Fanny Crosby: America’s Hymn Queen
Biography from Christianity.com.
Biography at WholesomeWords.org.
Background from the New York Institute for Special Education.
Frances Jane Crosby
Compilation of her hymns — lyrics and MIDI. Also note the list of pseudonyms.
History of Hymns: Blessed Assurance
Background on one of Crosby’s hymns.
Hope Channel Biographies: Fanny Crosby
Biography from Kids for Truth.
Music, sheet music, and more at TimelessTruths.org.
The Fanny Crosby Reading Room
Take a virtual audio tour of the Fanny Crosby Reading Room at the New York Institute for Special Education.
Fanny Crosby’s Life-Story by Fanny Crosby
Autobiography in the public domain.
Memories of Eighty Years by Fanny Crosby
Autobiography in the public domain.
Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
To God Be the Glory
Sermons4Kids.com unit based on one of Fanny Crosby’s well-known hymns.
“To God Be the Glory”
A study of one of Fanny Crosby’s well-known hymns at HymnStudiesBlog.
Fanny Crosby Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narration, or wrapping up.