A truly remarkable womanA hundred years ago, who was the most revered woman in America? It likely was someone not five percent of today’s population could identify if they heard her name: Fanny Crosby.
She was born Frances Jane Crosby in Putnam County, N.Y., in 1820. She died in 1915, just a month short of her 95th birthday. And what a long life of achievement it was.
She earned great fame and appreciation for her charitable work in inner cities, especially when she nursed the sick during New York’s terrible cholera epidemic in the late 1840s. Thousands fled the city but Fanny stayed behind, contracting the disease herself but later recovering.
She probably holds the record for having met (and befriended) more Presidents of the United States than any other American, living or dead — an astounding 21, or almost half of the 44 we’ve had. She met every single one (in some cases after they served in the White House) from John Quincy Adams to Woodrow Wilson. She was also the very first woman to address the United States Congress.
What made Fanny’s life so remarkable was the handicap she endured and overcame — total blindness. At the age of just 6 months, treatment for an inflammation of her eyes blinded her for life. She could never see, but in a very poignant way she never looked back either. Throughout her life, she inspired others with her hard work and personal initiative. She even learned to play the piano, organ, harp and guitar, and became a respected soprano singer. She was popular as much for her perseverance in the face of a horrific obstacle as for all the many good deeds she performed.
Fanny Crosby set a personal goal of bringing a million people to Christianity through her hymns. Whenever she wrote one, she prayed it would bring women and men to Christ, and kept careful records of those reported to have been converted through her works. She also wrote four books of poetry and two best-selling autobiographies.
America is a country with a history of heroes, but it seems at times that we’ve forgotten more than we’re producing these days. Maybe there’s a connection there. If we forget our heroes, how can their examples serve as inspirations? Fanny Crosby is worth remembering not only for what she did but for the good her story can still do today.
(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N.Y., and Atlanta.)