5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Christianity’s Most Prolific Hymn Writer

fanny crosby hymns

Fanny Crosby wrote over 8,000 hymns over the course of her 95 years—perennial favorites “To God be the Glory,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “Rescue the Perishing” among them. But before she was a famous hymn writer (she didn’t publish her first until she was in her forties) Fanny penned fiercely political ballads, songs for minstrel shows, short stories, and nonreligious poetry.

To commemorate her death on this day 101 years ago, here are 5 other facts you probably didn’t know about Christianity’s most prolific songwriter.

She (possibly) was blinded by a doctor while still an infant

fanny crosby hymnsWhen she was just six weeks old, Fanny caught a cold which caused her eyes to inflame. A travelling doctor applied mustard plaster—a paste made from ground mustard seed—to the infant’s eyes. If left on the skin for too long, mustard plaster can cause first-degree burns; it’s possible the doctor’s treatment blinded young Fanny. That’s how Fanny told the story.

But some scholars believe Fanny was more likely born blind; it’s not uncommon for blindness to go unnoticed in newborns. Regardless of its source, Fanny never resented her condition. As she once said, “I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

She always began her song writing with prayer

Though she didn’t start out writing hymns, Fanny was a devout Christian from a young age. Her father died while she was still a baby, and her 21-year-old mother was forced to earn a living as a maid. This put Fanny in the care of her grandmother during the day, and the pair spent hours reading the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and discussing the importance of prayer.

This provided a spiritual foundation for Fanny in later life. At one point she was writing as many as six or seven hymns a day, but she always maintained proper focus. She said, “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.”

Fanny’s devotion to her craft and remarkable productivity was only matched by her love for God. In fact, she had a lofty spiritual goal for her work—a million souls won to Christ. As a result, she kept meticulous records of the stories and names of those who came to Christ thanks in part to her songs.

Her first poem was published by P.T. Barnum—without her permission

Beginning in 1835, Fanny lived at the New York Institute for the Blind. While there, someone sent one of her poems to P.T. Barnum—without her knowledge. The famed huckster published the poem, though it is unclear whether or not he knew he was doing so without her consent. He likely didn’t even know the poem was written by a blind teenager!

A phrenologist declared Fanny Crosby a "born poetess."

A phrenologist declared Fanny Crosby a “born poetess.”

Fanny’s proclivity for writing poetry was first eyed with suspicion by the faculty of the New York Institute for the Blind. But that changed with the arrival of George Combe. Combe, an “expert” in phrenology—the debunked pseudoscience based on the shape of the human skull—declared Fanny a “born poetess.” The institute immediately dropped their opposition.

She was a celebrity in her time

It’s hard to imagine a hymn writer reaching celebrity status today, but in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Fanny was a public figure on par with her contemporary, the famed composer John Phillip Sousa.

As early as 1843 Fanny was in the public eye. That year she became the first woman to speak in the United States senate, urging congress to support education for the blind; she even read a poem she penned just for the occasion. Of course, Fanny’s true claim to fame was her many hymns. She wrote so many she was forced to use pseudonyms—otherwise American hymnals would have been dominated by a single name!

Such was Fanny’s celebrity that in 1905, she received her own holiday. Churches all over the country celebrated her hymnody during services held on March 26, Fanny Crosby Day.

One of her most famous hymns was initially a dud

Billy Graham helped popularize one of Fanny Crosby's most famous hymns.

Billy Graham helped popularize one of Fanny Crosby’s most famous hymns.

Though perhaps Fanny Crosby’s best-known hymn, “To God Be the Glory” wasn’t very popular during her lifetime. Sung regularly in Britain, churches in the United States never gave the song much use. For whatever reason, it just didn’t stand out against the thousands of Fanny’s other hymns.

However, in 1954, Billy Graham’s song leader used the hymn during a crusade in London. The response was so positive that he used it again in a crusade in Nashville, Tennessee. Americans, who were largely unfamiliar with the song, immediately took to it, and it exploded in popularity. Today, it’s hard to imagine a hymnal without it.

Want to explore Fanny Crosby’s ministry more in depth? Pick up her autobiography in Logos, and you can see how she told her life story.


  1. Michael Bradford says

    Ironically Fanny Crosby is buried in the same cemetery as P.T.Barnum