Fanny Crosby


Fanny Crosby : biography

March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915

Crosby’s process

Crosby described her hymn-writing process: ‘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.’ Her capacity for work was incredible and often she would compose six or seven hymns a day."Biography", Papers of Fanny Crosby (Collection 35), (Wheaton, IL: Billy Graham Center Archives), Her poems and hymns were composed entirely in her mind and she worked on as many as twelve hymns at once before dictating them to an amenuensus. On one occasion Crosby composed 40 hymns before they were transcribed."Next Sunday Will be ‘Fanny Crosby’ Day", The Pittsburgh Press (March 19, 1905):40. Her lyrics would usually be transcribed by Alexander Van Alstyne, or later by her half-sister Carolyn "Carrie" Ryder or her secretary Eva C. Cleaveland, as Crosby herself could write little more than her name. While Crosby had musical training, she did not compose the melody for most of her lyrics. In fact, in 1903 Crosby claimed that "Spring Hymn" was the only hymn she wrote both the words and music.Carleton (1903), p. 137 In 1906 Crosby composed both the words and music for "The Blood-Washed Throng", which was published and copyrighted by gospel singer Mary Upham Currier,Crosby (1906), p. 198. who was a distant cousin who had been a well-known concert singer.Ruffin (1976), p. 189.

While teaching at the NYIB, Crosby studied music under George F. Root, until his resignation in November 1850.Carder (2008), p. 32.

In 1921 Edward S. Ninde wrote: "None would claim that she was a poetess in any large sense. Her hymns… have been severely criticised. Dr. Julian, the editor of the Dictionary of Hymnology, says that ‘they are, with few exceptions, very weak and poor,’ and others insist that they are ‘crudely sentimental.’ Some hymn books will give them no place whatever".Edward S. Ninde, The Story of the American Hymn (New York, NY: Abingdon Press, 1921), According to Glimpses of Christian History, Crosby’s "hymns have sometimes been criticized as ‘gushy and mawkishly sentimental’ and critics have often attacked both her writing and her theology. Nonetheless, they were meaningful to her contemporaries and hymn writer George C. Stebbins stated, ‘There was probably no writer in her day who appealed more to the valid experience of the Christian life or who expressed more sympathetically the deep longings of the human heart than Fanny Crosby.’ And many of her hymns have stood the test of time, still resonating with believers today".

Early life and education

Frances Jane "Fanny" Crosby was born on March 24, 1820, in the village of Brewster, about north of New York City.Blumhofer (2005), pp. 1–13. She was the only child of John Crosby, a widower who had a daughter from his first marriage,Blumhofer (2005), p. 14. and his second wife, Mercy Crosby, both of whom were relatives of Revolutionary War spy Enoch Crosby. According to C. Bernard Ruffin, John and Mercy were possibly first cousins, however "by the time Fanny Crosby came to write her memoirs [in 1906], the fact that her mother and father were related … had become a source of embarrassment, and she maintained that she did not know anything about his lineage".Ruffin (1995), p. 20.

Crosby was proud of her Puritan heritage, and said in 1903: "My ancestors were Puritans; my family tree rooted around Plymouth Rock". Crosby traced her ancestry from Ann Brigham and Simon Crosby who arrived in Boston in 1635,New England Historic Genealogical Society, The New England Historical & Genealogical Register and Antiquarian Journal, Vol. 14 (S.G. Drake, 1860):310–311.Eleanor Francis (Davis) Crosby, Simon Crosby the Emigrant: His English Ancestry, and Some of his American Descendants (Press of G. H. Ellis co., 1914):45, 98. and was one of the founders of Harvard College,Warren Dunham Foster, Heroines of Modern Religion (Ayer Publishing, 1913):117. whose descendants later married into Mayflower families, making Crosby a descendant of Elder William Brewster, Edward Winslow, and Thomas Prence, and later a member of the exclusive Daughters of the Mayflower.Blumhofer (2005), p. 11. Crosby was also later a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Bridgeport, Connecticut,Ruffin (1995), p. 238. writing the verses of the state song of the Connecticut branch.Daughters of the American Revolution Continental Congress, Proceedings of the Continental Congress of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Vol. 24 (The Congress, 1915):446. Through Simon Crosby, Fanny was also a relative of Presbyterian minister Howard Crosby and his son, neoabolitionist Ernest Howard Crosby,Ralph E. Luker, The Social Gospel in Black and White: American Racial Reform, 1885scher 1912 (UNC Press Books, 1998):242. as well as singers Bing Crosby and his brother, Bob.Blumhofer (2005), pp. ix, 3, 11.