Genealogy: Franny J. Crosby (March 24, 1820 - Feb 12, 1915)

Genealogy: Franny J. Crosby

A prodigious writer and poet, Franny J. Crosby penned more than 8,000 texts (though some say 9,000) in her lifetime of some 95 years and, yet, she was blind from the age of six.

Raised in Putnam County, New York, Crosby had two sisters and a brother. The small brood lost their father when Franny was one year old. By age five she had developed a keen curiosity about the world and first visited New York City, only while there she was diagnosed with blindness.

The condition was not to inhibit her desire to glean the most from life. "My ambition," she wrote in Memories of Eighty Years, "was boundless and my desires were intent to live for some great purpose in the world and to make for myself a name that should endure."

With her grandmother as companion, she made a habit of memorising Scripture, a talent which would lead to her later accomplishment and thirst for knowledge and good literature. It was said her grandfather, who praised her early attempts at poetry, helped to shape her ambition. At age eight she wrote the lines: "Oh, what a happy soul am I; Although I cannot see; I am resolved that in this world; Contended I will be."

She entered the New York Institution for the Blind at the age of 15 with the prayer, "Grant me the light of knowledge". She was inspired by many mentors, including Sylvester Main, a family friend from Ridgefield, Connecticut, who later became her publisher at Bigelow and Main, as well as one Dr. Russ who had kept the company of Lord Byron.

At the school, which was still many years away from inventing the Braille system, she heard lectures and readings, all enjoyable except for arithmetic. A humbling event occurred when, called to the principal's office, she was told in no uncertain terms that her rhyming was a distraction to other students and was a vanity. Later, a visiting phrenologist advised that her poetry was to be given every encouragement.   

Her first book of poems, titled The Blind Girl and Other Poems, was published in 1844. Between 1847 and 1858, she taught English and History at the Institution becoming its "Poet Laureate" and associating herself with like-minded artists and persons of esteem (she is a distant relative of Bing Crosby).

"I longed for the crystal streams of literature," she wrote. "I wished to associate with those who, like myself, were winning their way in the face of the fiercest foes and seeking a truer meaning to life. A great life was a wonderful inspiration to me."

She penned poems for the Tribune in New York at the request of publisher Horace Greeley and made visits to parliament and the White House to further the case of education for the blind.

After marriage in 1858, her husband Alexander Van Alstyne, who had become blind as a young man and fell under her tutelage at the Institution, insisted Fanny retain her literary name, which was already well known. He was an accomplished musician, composer and theologian and, clearly, humble. 

It has been said she "set more hearts and voices to praising God than any other woman who ever lived", and that despite her disability "sang more songs of hope than any other human being". She was lauded for her missionary work with the poor and needy and used the sale of her work and public speaking to aid this endeavour.

"I seem to have been led, little by little, toward my work," she wrote, "and I believe that the same fact will appear in the life of anyone who will cultivate such powers as God has given him, and then go on, bravely, quietly, but persistently, doing such work as comes to his hands."

Many of the current hymns sung in churches, such as "To God Be the Glory", are attributable to Crosby who is credited with ascribing to God all of her good work and the unique education, influence and perspective she was afforded in the world by means of her blindness.

"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."

"To God be the glory, great things He hathdone;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life, an atonement for sin,
And opened the lifegate, that all may go in." - "To God Be The Glory", Franny J. Crosby

Further references and resources:
The New York School for Special Education 
(with words by Louis W. Rodenburg in the journal Outlook for the Blind, Vol. 26, March, 1932).
'Hymn of Grace' by Keith W Ward, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1996 Vol. 9-16 (via
Fanny Crosby Wikipedia page
The Fanny Crosby Facebook Page

"Genealogy" looks at followers of the Christian faith throughout the ages.

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