The Crosby family arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. A few centuries and many generations later, John and Mercy Crosby welcomed their first child, Francis Jane Crosby. The year was 1820. Fanny Crosby went on to be the most prolific hymn writer to have ever lived. By the time she was done, she would write more than nine thousand hymns.
When Fanny was six weeks old, she had an infection in both eyes. The doctor’s treatment ended up doing more harm than good, as she was left blind for the rest of her life. Later in her first year, her father died. Her mother, Mercy, raised her alone. Mercy taught young Fanny not to turn to self-pity but to be self-sufficient.
The Crosby family lived in upstate New York and Massachusetts when Fanny was young. As she spent time in the homes of relatives, she was exposed to vast varieties of English literature and poetry. Much of her childhood was spent being read to and learning from these books.
She also spent a significant amount of time memorizing the Bible. It was said of Fanny Crosby that she had committed whole books of the Bible to memory. She would often spend time just sitting down and reciting these books.
Early on, she engaged not only in reading poetry but also in writing poetry. She was a young hymn writer in the making. In fact, her conversion came through listening to a fellow hymn writer, Isaac Watts, and his hymn “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?”
Another moment of significance in Fanny Crosby’s life was when her mother sent her to the New York Institute for the Blind, which had only recently been established. It would become her home for a long time. She would spend twelve years there as a student and another eleven years there as a teacher.
It was at the New York Institute for the Blind that she met Alexander van Alstyne. He was from New York and of the Dutch descent. So while Fanny’s family could trace its roots back to the New England Puritans, Alexander’s family could trace its roots all the way back to the original Dutch Reformed settlers of New York. Alexander was also blind, and he was an accomplished organist. Alexander and Fanny soon got married.
It was Alexander who composed many of the tunes for her hymns. They worshiped at a Dutch Reformed church in Manhattan. It was at that church and through some of her connections there that she met a music publisher, who began paying her for writing hymns—two dollars per hymn. So, Fanny continued to write hymns. In fact, she wrote her last hymn on February 11, 1915, the day before she died.
A particularly good year for her hymn writing was 1875. She penned two hymns that would come to be favorites not only in her day but have even come down through the centuries and are favorites in our day—”All the Way My Savior Leads Me” and “To God Be the Glory, Great Things He Has Done.” And so it was, that God was glorified through the life of Fanny Crosby, in her writing these hymns that we sing even today.