This Was Her Story! This Was Her Song!

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DBF

First Sergeant
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Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Fanny_Crosby.jpg

Frances Jane van Alstyne
(aka Fanny Crosby)

March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915
(Public Domain)

She is known as the "Mother of modern congregational singing in America” (*), but she was also a trail blazer. Frances Jane Crosby was born in Brewster, NY on March 24, 1820 into a family with an ancestry of sturdy American heroes. From a traveler on the Mayflower, founders of Harvard College and an American spy during the Revolutionary War, her heritage was strong but it would not help her from a life-changing tragedy. It is uncertain if she was born blind or treatment for an eye infection caused damage to an optic nerve when she was just a baby - one thing was certain - Miss Fanny would never see.

After the death of her father she was raised by her deeply Christian mother and maternal grandmother. It was this upbringing that lead her to state in her adult years: "It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation”. (*)

* * *

New_York_Blind_Institute.jpg

(Public Domain)

When Fanny was 11 years old she received a scholarship to attend a newly opened school in New York City. The New York Institution for the Education of the Blind opened its’ door in 1831. The school was founded by a Quaker philanthropist, a physician and another gentleman that was both a philanthropist and physician. She held dear memories of her school years where she acquired a love of literature and music. She was an excellent student and acquired an excellent education.

* * *
She graduated from the Institute in 1843 and immediately headed to Washington to advocate for the need to educate the blind. She became the first women to speak in the Senate and also the first woman to speak to a joint session of Congress where she recited the following poem:

“O ye, who here from every state convene,
Illustrious band! may we not hope the scene
You now behold will prove to every mind

Instruction hath a ray to cheer the blind.” {6}

Fanny returned to the Institute in 1846 as a teacher in grammar, rhetoric and history. While at the school she became friends with a 17 year old future president Grover Cleveland. Miss Crosby has credited him with mentoring in her writing skills and encouraging her to be “more assertive in advocating for her rights”. {2}

On March 5, 1858 she married Alexander van Alstyne Jr., a sometime students of Fanny and then a full time teacher. He too was blind. When they became engaged she was required to resign from the Institute.

* * *​

She may be known today as a writer of many Christians hymns, but during the war Fanny was a strong believer in the Union fight. She wrote the following poem aimed at the Confederate President Jefferson Davis and titled it “Song to Jeff Davis”:

“Come thou vaunting boaster,
Jeff Davis and thy clan.
Our northern troops are waiting,
Now, show thyself a man.
Advance with all thy forces,
We dare thy traitor band,
We’ll blow thy ranks to atoms,
We’ll fight them hand to hand.

Now, Jeff, when thou art needy,
Lead on thy rebel crew.
We’ll give them all a welcome -
With balls and powder too!
We spurn thy constitution!
We spurn thy southern laws!
Our stars and stripes are waving,

And Heav’n will speed our cause.” {3}


Ohio born Daniel Decatur Emmett in 1859 wrote what would become the Confederate favorite song “Dixie”; a few year later, the always patriotic Fanny Crosby added her own words to build up the morale of the Union. This rendition was printed and sung by many (Yankee) school children:

“On! ye patriots to the battle,
Hear Fort Moultrie's cannon rattle!
Chorus - Away, Away, away to the battle!
Go meet those Southern traitors,
With iron will.
And should your courage falter, boys,
Remember Bunker Hill.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The Stars and Stripes forever!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our Union shall not sever!

*
As our Fathers crushed oppression,
Deal with those who breed secession;
Chorus - Away, Away, away to the battle!
Though Bureaugard and Wiglah,
Their swords may wet,
Just tell them Major Anderson,
Has not surrendered yet.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The Stars and Stripes forever!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our Union shall not sever!
*
Is Virginia seceeding?

Washington's remains unheeding;
Chorus - Away, Away, away to the battle!
Unfurl our Country's banner,
In triumph there,
And let those rebels desecrate,
That Banner if they dare.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The Stars and Stripes forever!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our Union shall not sever!

*
Volunteers be up and doing,

In that good old path pursuing;
Chorus - Away, Away, away to the battle!
The Sires that's gone before us,
Have led the way,
Just follow in their footsteps boys,
And be as brave as they.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The Stars and Stripes forever!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our Union shall not sever!

*
On ye Patriot's to the battle,
Hear Fort Moultrie's cannon rattle;
Chorus - Away, Away, away to the battle!
The Stars that lights our Union,
Shall never set,
Though fierce may be the conflict boys
We'll gain the victory yet.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The Stars and Stripes forever!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Our Union shall not sever!”
{7}

* * *​

Fanny Crosby lived her life to the fullest. She worked tirelessly for charities specifically in dangerous duties. In 1840 when a cholera epidemic swept through New York; Fanny stayed behind and cared for the sick. A dedicated Christian she used her poems (many that were set to music) to help win over and lead others to Christ. She is credited with writing over 3,000 poems throughout her lifetime.

In addition to being the first woman to speak in Congress, she also has an amazing record of meeting more U.S. Presidents than perhaps any other American. "In her lifetime she met 21. She met every one (in some cases after they served in the White House) from John Quincy Adams to Woodrow Wilson." {4}

Unfortunately by 1880 her marriage had fallen apart and the couple separated. In 1859 the couple became parents to a daughter, Frances that died shortly after her birth. The poem “Safe in the arms of Jesus” was written shortly after daughter’s death. Her poem was put to music and it was sung in 1885 at the funeral of Ulysses S Grant:

"Safe in the arms of Jesus
Safe on his gentle breast
There by his love o'er shaded sweetly

My soul shall rest." {*}

Fanny’s husband became withdrawn after the death and in time it took a toll on their relationship. They remained friends and Fanny only spoke once about the collapse of the marriage after his death when she said: “He had his faults—and so have I mine, but notwithstanding these, we loved each other to the last”. {6}

On February 12, 1915, Fanny Crosby died. The cause of death was arteriosclerosis and a cerebral hemorrhage. She was in her 94th year. She is buried near her mother and her tombstone simply states -

“Aunt Fanny: She hath done what she could; Fanny J. Crosby”. {8}

* * *

Fanny_Crosby_portrait.jpg

(Public Domain)


“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!" {1}

* * *​


Sources
1. https://www.nyise.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=428557&type=d&pREC_ID=935665
2. https://www.nyise.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=431301&type=d&pREC_ID=939018
3. Fanny Crosby: The Hymn Writer, by Bernard Ruffin
4. https://fee.org/articles/blind-but-not-disabled/
5.
https://yesteryearsnews.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/fanny-crosby-blind-hymn-writer/
6. “Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby, by Edith Blumhofer
7. https://www.loc.gov/resource/amss.cw101420.0
8.
https://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bcrosby9.html
* Wikipedia - Fanny Crosby/New York Institute for the Education of the Blind
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I remember " This Is My Story " from the old ( old ) hymn book. She must have been a wonderful singer too? Some of the old hymns like hers rocket through so many octaves only the real singers in the congregation could keep up. I'd be the one quitting after middle C and listening to the pros.

Nice to ' meet ' the woman responsible for a lot of old favorites, even more impressive knowing she was blind. Thanks for posting!
 

Eleanor Rose

Captain
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central NC
Fanny was an incredible woman. It seems so sad that she and her husband grew apart. It makes me wonder what those many years were really like for them. I found this picture of them on Find A Grave along with this information:

"He was considered one of the finest organist in the New York area.Alexander and Fanny Crosby's personal relationship blossomed into love despite the fact that,when they married in 1858,she was 38 and he was 27.They were married 44 years,although,on her husband's insistence, Fanny continued to use her maiden name,which was by then already quite famous.In time they would each pursue their own career,living separately,but always friends.The couple had one child,which died in infancy.Later,Fanny's hymn,Safe in the Arms of Jesus,would comfort many similarly grieving parents.On July 18,1902 Alexander Van Alstyne died in Brooklyn.Fanny Crosby did not attend the funeral because of her poor health. Phoebe Knapp paid for his burial at Mt.Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, New York."

110152138_1393646740.jpg
 
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DBF

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even more impressive knowing she was blind
I was quite impressed with her love of the Union and meeting 21 presidents! She certainly had a wonderful gift. As a pianist - I can usually count of one or two of her hymns being requested for a funeral. She also preferred living an extremely "modest" life style - her humbleness {when measured by her accomplishments} was quite remarkable.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I was quite impressed with her love of the Union and meeting 21 presidents! She certainly had a wonderful gift. As a pianist - I can usually count of one or two of her hymns being requested for a funeral. She also preferred living an extremely "modest" life style - her humbleness {when measured by her accomplishments} was quite remarkable.

That made me think of all the hymns she probably wrote and I grew up singing without the slightest idea. Love this stuff, who in history was responsible for the history we walked through.

Just watched the 60 Minutes presentation on Matthew Whitaker. Guy is so gifted it would sound ridiculous trying to describe how gifted. I may be easily impressed because I have less than no musical ability but even I know when something is just beyond magical. Got chills listening to his parents interview, the struggle to save his sight, that his gift transcended it anyway.
 
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Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
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Jul 8, 2015
Frances Crosby was descended from Enoch Crosby, who spied on the British for Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution.

Crosby was the model for the fictional Harry Birch, the hero of James Fennimore Cooper's novelThe Spy (1821).

I spent most of my early years in the Hudson Valley town of Carmel, N.Y., where Crosby had his farm. He is (was) a local celebrity there.
 
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VirgilKane

Cadet
Joined
Jul 9, 2019
One of my many favorites (as you can tell be my title of this thread) - I once had a bride walk down the aisle to her hymn "To God Be The Glory" - it gave my chills.
Nice post and discussion. No one sings these hymns anymore, but I recall them so well from childhood. Blessed Assurance and To God be the Glory are awesome and powerful. Little did I know of this gifted woman who wrote them.
 
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