If you have ever been to a church where they still sing occasional hymns, then your heart has been uplifted by the works of Fanny Crosby. She was a blind woman, an activist, a writer, poet, teacher, humanitarian, and possibly, a chronic illness and depression survivor. Even though she made history by writing nearly 10,000 hymns- more praise songs than any other person, many don’t know the story behind this incredible woman and survivor.
Shortly after her birth in 1820, fever from a common cold caused swelling in Fanny’s eyes. The treatment the doctors used trying to bring down the swelling caused permanent, irreversible blindness. Fanny never resented that doctor, and later, wrote a poem about her blindness being her gift.
Growing up, Fanny was a spirited happy child, despite living in darkness. Her family had roots in the Puritan religion and her grandmother put an emphasis on her Bible education. Young Fanny took an interest in music and creative writing, and she wrote her first poem at age 8. You can already see her early knack for rhyme and rhythm:
Oh what a happy soul I am!
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!
After she graduated college, Fanny spoke at multiple campaigns to raise awareness for blindness education, she was a speaker in front of Congress for political legislation, and she even befriended Grover Cleveland! Even though she had gained popularity in her political writing, was a noted speaker, and was becoming a recognized poet (lovingly called “the blind poet”), in time, she said that she felt an emptiness in this work. This is when Fanny Crosby began focusing more on her spiritual path and writing hymns and praise poems which have touched so many hearts.
She shifted her focus to helping others as she sought a more meaningful life serving the Lord. Just like when she was younger and volunteered teaching blind prison inmates, Fanny set out to help at homeless shelters and was a regular patron at missions all over New York City. Her heart was with those less fortunate; she gained a new type of prominence among a different class of people for being a compassionate, caring soul during a harsh time in America. When Cholera broke out in New York City, she turned her focus to caring for the sick and worked tirelessly at the hospital near her home in Brooklyn. She was very passionate about this effort and many of her songs are inspired by this period in her life.
Fanny and her husband had one child, a daughter, who tragically died in infancy from Typhoid Fever. One of her most popular hymns, Safe in the Arms of Jesus was written just after the passing of her daughter:
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly my soul doth rest.
After losing their only child, her husband became a recluse. Fanny began spending most of her time in the church and wrote the majority of her hymns and Christian poems with her minister and often, her co-writer. Over and over, there are records of Fanny not feeling well, being “depressed,” worn down, and having to take time away for health matters. It seems as though this was a regular occurrence over the course of her career. Saying she had a Chronic Illness or a depressive disorder is just conjecture, but it does appear that she dealt with ongoing health and emotional struggles throughout her life. Nevertheless, she held tight to her faith and was a constant source of inspiration to those in her life. Through her encouragement in helping others less fortunate and sharing her very personal poems about her spiritual walk with the Lord, Fanny was always willing to give of herself. She STILL is a source of encouragement and hope to anyone who sings or reads one of her writings.
Fanny Crosby’s blindness did not hold her back from pursuing her passions and using the gifts she was given. She once said that she was happy to be blind so that the first sight she would ever see would be the face of her Savior in Heaven [para]. She had so many hurdles in life beyond her impaired vision, but she continued her writing and always sought out new ways she could be a blessing to others in need of help. She made history with her words. Through her music, she continues to open hearts, and through her lyrics, souls come alive. She is an inspiration to me as a woman, as a writer, and as a disabled person. Fanny Crosby made history with her works of praise songs, but through her actions, she left behind a legacy of love.
Blessed Assurance (Chorus)
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior