Frances Jane Crosby (Fanny) was born on March 24, 1820, in a
pre-Revolutionary home (c. 1757) along a quiet country road, Gayville
Road, later known as Foggintown Road. Her birthplace was near the Old
Southeast church in Doanesburg, one of the early settlements in
Southeast. The house stands today.
Her father and mother, John Crosby and Mercy Crosby, originally moved to the Town of Southeast from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Mercy Crosby's father was a cousin of Revolutionary spy Enoch Crosby. Fanny Crosby later wrote: "I have often sat when a little child and listened to stories of his courage and heroism...it was universally admitted that he did the Revolutionary cause more good than many a gallant general".
When Fanny Crosby was 6 weeks old she contracted an infection which caused inflammation in her eyes. A physician unfortunately applied hot poultices to her inflamed eyes. The infection in time cleared up but within a few months the scarring caused by the infection blinded her.
Fanny Crosby led a quiet, sheltered childhood. She wrote: "One of my
principal amusements was to sit with hands clasped and listen to the
many voices of Nature". Her very religious grandmother, Eunice,
tremendously influenced her life. A strong religious belief definitely
affected the way in which Fanny Crosby would live her entire life. Her
handicap never stopped her from pursuing a full and happy life. Her
first poem illustrates the attitude which she adopted towards her life:
"O, what a happy soul am I
although I cannot see
I am resolved that in this world
contented I will be."
By the age of 10, Fanny Crosby had reportedly memorized the entire Bible, and was said to have possessed a most remarkable memory. At the age of 15, she entered the Institute for the Blind in New York City where she studied the alphabet for the blind as well as the usual arithmetic, of which she wrote:
"I loathe, abhor, it makes me sick,
to hear the word Arithmetic".
For eleven years Fanny Crosby was an instructor for the Institute, teaching Grammar, Rhetoric, Greek and American History. At the Institute she met a blind music teacher, Alexander Van Alstyne, whom she married on March 5, 1858. She began to write poetry and secular songs, such as "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower". At the age of 45, Fanny Crosby wrote her first hymn: "Safe in the Arms of Jesus". She collaborated in her hymn writing, first with composer William Bradbury and later with composer Ira Sankey.
Through the years as she was writing hymns, she found the time to offer her services in many different ways to several causes. One such endeavor, lobbying in Washington, D.C., came about through a friendship formed years before with the secretary of the Institute for the Blind, Grover Cleveland, who later became President of the United States. They developed a lifelong friendship and, as President, Grover Cleveland invited Fanny Crosby to Washington, D.C. to address both houses of Congress in an appeal for the cause of the blind. Fanny Crosby acted as a lobbyist for free institutes for the blind to be established in every state in the Union. This has still not come to pass.
Fanny Crosby also worked in "Home Missions" in New York City, in the Bowery. She toured the United States by train, preaching and lecturing. This gallant lady, who refused to allow a handicap to curtail her activities, led a very adventurous, rewarding life, especially considering it was in the early and mid 19th century when a woman was not usually as involved politically. These years also afforded her the opportunity to meet several of the Presidents of the United States, including John Tyler, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren and James Polk.
Fanny Crosby wrote over 8,000 hymns, including "Pass Me Not", "Rescue the Perishing", "Blessed Assurance" and "Savior More Than Life To Me."
Robert Lowry, D.D., wrote of Fanny Crosby in 1902: "The time has not yet come when Fanny Crosby's place among the hymn writers of Christendom may be determined, but it is safe to say that of the many hymns which have come up from the throbbing of her warm heart, there will be found in the ultimate sifting no inconsiderable number which the world will not willingly let die".
Bernard Ruffin, author of "Fanny Crosby - Heroes of the Faith", published in 1976, called Fanny Crosby "the most prolific producer of hymns since the days of Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts".
Fanny Crosby was a preacher, teacher and lecturer as well as a hymn writer, harpist and organist. She was called the "Mother of modern congregational singing in America".
On the front page of The Brewster Standard, February 26, 1915, tribute was paid to Fanny Crosby: - The article states that she had presented to William Losee of Brewster a copy of Bells at Evening, a biographical sketch of her life by Robert Lowry, with the following inscription:
"To my dear cousin, Will Losee, Yours lovingly, Fanny Crosby, 1904."
William Losee was one of the honorary pall bearers at her funeral held in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Fanny Crosby died on February 1915, at the age of 95 years, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.