Monday, July 1, 2024

Unexpected Legacy Series: Frances Jane Van Alstyne

 By Matthew J. Elliott

Fanny Crosby

Thus far in this series, I have spent a great deal of time on writers. Why? Well, because it is what I know. As a writer, I often search for stories that will inspire me to be a better writer. Most of them come from literature that I have read throughout my life. One of the things that many people do not know about me though is that music is also a deep passion of mine. In truth, my passion for music inspired my love for writing. Music is a whole other world but there are connections between the two, at least for me. It has always been something I relate to in more ways than one. With that in mind, the second phase of this Unexpected Legacies series will focus less on the writers and highlight other figures in history who have inspired others. There are a great deal of inspirational figures in the music world and one of those people is a woman named Frances Jane Van Alstyne.

While many will not recognize that name, her maiden name, Crosby, may just give it away. This woman was a prominent hymnist and poet who was also involved in missionary work in New York. There is a lot to say about this woman and the legacy she left behind. As a child, she was born to John and Mercy Crosby. When she was around 6 weeks old she developed an infection that had inflamed her eyes. Her father called a man who claimed to be a doctor to perform treatment, but this treatment resulted in permanent loss of sight. At the age of 6 months, her father died and she was left in the care of her mother and grandmother. While these tragedies did not keep her from living a joyful life, the struggle of being blind in the world around her led to many struggles along the way. 

(Public Domain)

Upon entering a school for the blind, things began to turn around for Frances and she found herself under the tutelage of the professors there. While attending this school, Frances began developing a passion for poetry and started composing poetry which led to her being asked to stay on as a teacher at the same school. She spent most of her educated life teaching at this school, all the while continuing her future as a poet. Eventually, she married a man named Alexander, who was also blind. Both of them attended the school as students and served as teachers once they graduated. Together, they had one child who unexpectedly passed away as an infant. As their marriage developed both of them parted ways, while remaining married, to pursue their careers.  It was around this time that Francis began writing hymns rather than poetry. 

Historically, there are thousands of hymns attributed to Frances Jane Van Alstyne throughout the rest of her life.  Many of which have found a home in The Methodist denomination as well as in The Salvation Army. Hymns such as ‘To God Be The Glory,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” and “Pass me not, O Gentle Savior.” Yes, this is the legacy of Fanny J Crosby, who many claim is the mother of modern hymnology. The list of songs she wrote or contributed to composing is almost limitless. All of which were written by the hand of a woman who could not see. The music we have today because of what was written so long ago is evolving in its own right as well. Some musicians still find inspiration for new content from her work today. That is not all she accomplished either. 

Fanny and Alexander Alstyne
Amid her failing marriage, the common struggles as a blind woman, and her continued career as a hymnist, Fanny spent a great deal of time with Phoebe Palmer, a woman on mission for the Methodist movement. Together, the two of them helped promote growth and commitment in the Methodist denomination both locally and internationally. Devoting their lives to a calling to reach out to people in poverty and need, these two women influenced many people who suffered. Working in the missionary field became the primary focus of her life until a friend took ill in the early 1900s. At this point she spent the rest of her life caring for her friend and eventually took ill herself, passing away in her mid-90s. In leaving this world behind, Fanny Crosby even left funds in her will to build a homeless shelter for the homeless. This along with the slew of inspired people, hymns and poetry remind us all that despite our struggles in life we can encourage others to walk in the light and we can offer joy to those in need.  

There is so much more to say about Fanny Crosby, but the unexpected legacy here is not one of fame or wealth, it is one of joy. Regardless of what we face in life, there are opportunities for us all to embrace this idea of unexpected legacies. While this woman, and many others who have been highlighted in this series, encountered the realities of the world they lived in, the message is still there. Let us not let the hand we are dealt in life keep us from living up to the legacy that lives within each of us. We too, can be overcomers. History is filled with examples like Fanny Crosby from all paths of life who can inspire us. Do you have a favorite Fanny Crosby Hymn? Did you know she was also an Urban Missionary in New York? How does her story inspire you?

~ Biography ~

Matthew James Elliott (M.J. Elliott) is a passionate writer who loves to encourage and inspire others. He has served in various ministry roles for over 15 years, which has given him a unique perspective on people and Biblical History. Matthew holds a degree in Biblical Studies from Oklahoma Wesleyan University, with a focus on Pastoral Care, Christian Education, and Worship.

Matthew is happily married to Traci, and they have three children named Leyla, Caleb, and Hannah, who bring them immense joy and inspiration. As a writer, Matthew's goal is to share love, equip others, and edify them for the greater good. He loves connecting any amount of scripture to his stories and uses his knowledge of Biblical History to do so often.

You can find Matthew's works on AmazonGoodreadsFacebook, and His Website. He has written DevotionalsAn Episodic SeriesNovellas, and even Commentaries for The Gospel Daily.

~ Highlighted Release ~

Ahavah Writings for the Journey
is a devotional inspired by Brother Lawrence and his book, "The Practice of the Presence of God." Following his approach, this little book is filled with heartfelt letters, encouraging devotionals and simple reflections the author has discovered in life. Each one written for everyone and for any season in life. Though the journey ahead may not be easy, take these pages to heart and apply them in your own life. Grab your digital copy free July 1st-5th on Amazon.




  1. Thank you for posting about Fanny Crosby today. She is one of my favorite hymnists, with Blessed Assurance high on my list of favorites. I knew she was blind, but didn't know much else about her. It's an inspiration to me that she was so active throughout her life.

  2. I grew up singing her songs in choirs and playing them in worship bands. She has always been one of my favorites. There is so much about these historical figures we don't really know isn't there?