Francis Jane Crosby was born in a small cottage in New York to parents with limited means of providing for their family. When she was about six weeks old, the infant caught a cold and developed an inflamation in her eyes. The family sought medical attention for their baby only to learn that their family physician was not available. They turned to another physician who recommended a treatment of mustard plasters. The prescribed treatment left the child blind.
To add to the family’s difficulty, little Fanny’s father died when she was only a year old. She was raised by her mother and grandmother who were devout Protestant Christians. They grounded faith into Fanny. They helped her memorize long passages of scripture, and Fanny grew to become a very active member in her church, John Street Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City.
When she was five years old, the family consulted to the best eye specialist in the country, Dr. Valentine Mott. Family friends and neighbors pooled money together in order to pay for the trip and the consultation. Dr. Mott gave his prognosis, “Poor child, I am afraid you will never see again.” Fanny did not think she was poor. It was not the loss of sight that bothered her young heart. It was the thought that she would never be able to get an education. She would not take no for an answer.
She enrolled in the New York Institute for the Blind when she was fifteen years old. Throughout her seven years studying at the Institute, Fanny developed her musical skills. She learned to play the piano and the guitar. She received vocal lessons and enjoyed singing. In 1847, Fanny accepted a teaching position at the Institute teaching both English and History. she remained in that position until 1858 when she married one of her fellow faculty members at the school, Alexander Van Alstyne.
Alystyne was also blind. Fanny and he had more than blindness in common. Alystyne was a musician. After marriage, Fanny kept her maiden name at the request of her husband. Fanny and Alexander had one child, a daughter who died in infancy. The couple separated and lived together only intermitently. Alexander died in 1902.
One would think that a person who faced such adversity might have been reclusive, even bitter, but not Fanny. Her grounding in her faith from childhood carried her through many dark times. Fanny devoted her life to Christ.
As a child, Fanny loved to write poetry. Her uplifting attitude was evident from an early age. When she was only eight years old she wrote, “Oh What a happy soul I am, Although I cannot see; I am resolved that in this world Contented I will be. How many blessing I enjoy, that other people don’t; To week and sigh because I’m glind, I cannot, and I won’t.”
In her lifetime, Fanny saw over 8,000 poems set to music and over 100,000,000 copies of her songs printed. She used as many as 200 different pen names. She gave God credit for the ability to write such beautiful worlds when she said, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”
Among Fanny’s most beloved and popular hymns are All the Way, My Savior Leads Me, Behold the Wondrous Love, Blessed Assurance, Close to Thee, I Am Thine O Lord, Near the Cross, Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior, and To God Be the Glory.
If one song summed up Fanny’s attitude toward her blindness it might have been My Savior First of All. She longed to see her Savior first of all. Fanny has been quoted as saying, “When I get to Heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”
Top Picture: Fanny Crosby
Second Picture: The Birthplace of Fanny Crosby
Third Picture: Fanny Crosby with here husband Alexander Van Alstyne