Fanny Crosby


Fanny Crosby : biography

March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915

Marriage and family

In the summer of 1843 Crosby met her future husband, Alexander Van Alstyne, Jr. (sometimes Van Alstine or Van Alsteine)Ruffin (1995), p. 80. Alexander was blind and enrolled at the NYIB, where he was a casual acquaintance of Crosby and sometimes a student in her classes.Blumhofer (2005), p. 69. From 1855 Van Alstyne was a teacher at NYIB for two years. During this time Crosby and Van Alstyne, whom his friends called "Van", were engaged to be married, necessitating her resignation from NYIB three days prior to their wedding at Maspeth, New York, on March 5, 1858.Blumhofer (2005), p. 90.

After their wedding, the Van Alstynes lived in a small home in the small rural village of Maspeth, New York, then with a population of about 200 people.Blumhofer (2005), p. 93.Crosby (1903), p. 94. At Van’s insistence, Crosby continued to use her maiden name as her literary name for her compositions,Crosby (1903), pp. 92–93. but she chose to use her married name on all legal documents.Neptune (2001), p. 78. However, according to Crosby biographer Edith Blumhofer: "Despite her education, her handwriting was barely legible, and on legal documents she signed her name with an X witnessed by friends".Blumhofer (2005), p. 200.

In 1859 the Van Alstynes had one daughter, Frances, who died in her sleep soon after birth.Neptune (2001), p. 86. While some believe the cause was typhoid fever,For example, see Eleanor Charles, "Fanny Crosby’s Day", The New York Times (August 30, 1992), Darlene Neptune speculates that it was SIDS, and that Crosby’s hymn, "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" was inspired by her daughter’s death.Neptune (2001), pp. 86–87.

After the death of their daughter, Van became increasingly reclusive,Neptune (2001), pp. 79, 87. and Crosby never spoke publicly about being a mother, only mentioning it in a few interviews toward the end of her life, when she said: "Now I am going to tell you of something that only my closest friends know. I became a mother and knew a mother’s love. God gave us a tender babe but the angels came down and took our infant up to God and to His throne".

After the death of their daughter, later in 1859 the Van Alstynes moved frequently, "establishing a pattern that continued for the rest of their lives", and never owned their own home, living in rented accommodation without a lease.Blumhofer (2005), p. 98.

In addition to Crosby’s income as a poet and lyricist, Van played the organ at two churches in New York City, and gave private music lessons. Although Crosby and Van could have lived comfortably on their combined income, Crosby "had other priorities and gave away anything that was not necessary to their daily survival". Crosby and Van also organized concerts, with half the proceeds given to aid the poor, in which Crosby gave recitations of her poems and sang and Van Alstyne played various instruments.Neptune (2001), pp. 76, 78. While Van Alstyne provided the music for some of her poetry,For example, see three songs in Knapp (1869) and "Stay Thee, Weary Child", in W. H. Doane and Robert Lowry, ed., Pure Gold (New York, NY: Biglow and Main, 1871):44, Crosby indicated that "his taste was mostly for the wordless melodies of the classics". The Van Alstynes collaborated on the production of a hymnal featuring only hymns written by them, but it was rejected by Biglow and Main, ostensibly because the directors believed the public would not buy a hymnal featuring only two composers, but probably due to the complexity of the melodies.Ruffin (1995), pp. 107, 110. In 1874, Crosby was reported to be "living in a destitute condition".J.W. Neighbor, ed., Neighbor’s Home Mail: The Ex-soldiers’ Reunion and National Camp-fire, Issue 2 (s.n., 1874):62.

For many years the Van Alstynes had "a most unusual married life",Blumhofer (2005), p. 313. and lived together only intermittently.Blumhofer (2005), p. 204. By 1880 Crosby and her husband had separated,Lynn Japinga, "Crosby, Frances ("Fanny") Jane", in The Westminster Handbook to Women in American Religious History, eds. Susan Hill Lindley and Eleanor J. Stebner (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008):51. with them living both separately and independently due to a rift in their marriage of uncertain origin.Blumhofer (2005), p. 310. At one point soon after, she moved to a "dismal flat" at 9 Frankfort Street, near one of Manhattan’s worst slums in the Lower East Side.Ruffin (1995), p. 132. Thereafter, she lived at several different addresses in and around Manhattan. Blumhofer suggests their estrangement was because Van denied Crosby the romantic love she desired due to the effect of the death of their daughter in 1859, and because their housing choices offered them little privacy.Blumhofer (2005), pp. 313–314. Others suggest the separation was the result of in the increase of Crosby’s outside interests, including writing hymns and rescue work.