When I was a little baby, six weeks old, in April 1820, my eyes became sore and red. A stranger who claimed to be a doctor put hot cloths on my eyes and, although the infection went away, white scars formed over my eyes. Afterward, I couldn’t see.
Poor Mother. 1820 turned out to be a terrible year for her. Not only were my eyes blinded, but my father died that year after getting sick from working in a field in the pouring rain.
What Grandma Taught Me While Mama Was Away
Mother had to go to work as a housekeeper for a rich family. I stayed home with Grandma Eunice. Grandma taught me all about flowers, trees, sunsets, and birds–she showed me how to handle things and remember them by the way they felt. In the autumn we took walks through the meadow and gathered leaves until we made a large pile. After I’d jumped in them, Grandma always handed me a leaf and asked me to tell her which tree it came from. It didn’t take long until I knew the names and descriptions of all the trees, flowers and birds among the hills outside our home.
One day I didn’t do what I was told, and my grandmother slapped my hands. It made me mad, so when my friend David Ketcham came to my house and asked me to come play with him, I thought, yes, I will play with you, but I will hurt you because my grandma hurt me.
I picked up a stone and threw it toward his voice. I missed! Poor David had no idea why I was angry. I was so glad he didn’t tell on me!
But Grandma still loved me, even if I did disobey her sometimes. And I loved her and enjoyed listening to her as she prayed, recited poetry and read the Bible to me every day. She said that God had a special purpose for everything he made including me, Frances Jane Crosby! (Everyone called me Fanny.)
Memorizing Whole Books of the Bible
I memorized where furniture and doors were in our house. I walked around easily, but the hardest thing about being blind is that I couldn’t go to school with the other children. I could play with them, but how do you read when you can’t see?
As I grew older, Grandma helped me to memorize parts of the Bible. In fact, by the time I was 12 years old I had memorized all of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Bible verses were like friends that cheered me up whenever I felt sad about not going to school.
When I was eight years old, I made up a poem and recited it to Grandma:
Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be!
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t!
To weep or sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot and I won’t.
School Was an Answer to Prayer but I Cried Going There
One evening, I crept toward my bedroom window and knelt there in the moonlight and prayed this simple prayer over and over: “Dear Lord, please show me how I can learn like other children.”
One afternoon, when I was 14 years old, Mother met me at our front gate and I heard a paper rustling in her hand. She told me that the paper told about the New York Institution for the Blind where I could go to school.
I clapped my hands with excitement! “Oh, thank God, Mother! He has answered my prayer just as I knew He would!”
Although I was very excited to go to school, it was far away from my mother, and I cried on the way to the school. I cried again the night I arrived there.
My second day there, I wasn’t as homesick anymore. In fact, I actually loved most of my classes. A teacher made books with raised letters on the pages. I felt the shape of the letters with my fingers and I could read!
Terrible at Math, Gifted with Words
I was terrible at math, but I became very good at writing poems. In fact, all my friends spoiled me by praising my poetry all the time. My teacher, Mr. Jones, finally called me into his office and told me that I had listened to their flattery until I became too proud! Mr. Jones said I was talented, but my poems still needed work.
Then he asked me, “Fanny, have I hurt your feelings?”
Something inside of me knew that this teacher was telling the truth, so I answered, “No, sir. You have talked to me like a father, and I thank you very much for it.”
From then on, I tried my best not to allow the sin of pride in my heart.
My teachers helped me to write better poetry, and after a few years, I wrote poems for presidents and governors, and I recited my poems to them when they came to visit our school. Even when people liked my poems very much, I remembered my talk with Mr. Jones and I didn’t let their flattering words make me proud.
Mother was so pleased with my new school! After I graduated from the New York Institution for the Blind, I became a teacher there. On March 5, 1858, I married one of the boys who went to my school. His name was Alexander van Alstine (I called him Van), and many said he was the finest organist in New York City! In fact, Van played the organ, I played the harp and piano, and pretty soon my poems were turning into songs. I liked to write songs that made people want to ask Jesus into their hearts.
Presidents and Preachers Wanted My Songs
Not only did I sing and write songs, but I was asked to travel to different cities and speak. I loved to tell people about Jesus.
Famous preachers and presidents used my songs in their special meetings. I can hardly believe that in my lifetime I wrote more than 9,000 songs! We put these songs into hymnbooks for everyone to sing along with us.