Sample chapter from “Fanny Crosby: Queen of Gospel Songs”

Chapter 11
The Poetess of the Institution

Time passed, and Fanny began to learn her way around the school. In fact, she began to think of the Institution as her home, but she struggled with some of her studies.

“I simply cannot learn division!” Fanny cried out one day. Tears of frustration came into her eyes.

Fanny’s friend Anna patted her arm. “I know it’s hard for you,” she said. “You just have to keep working at it.”

“I just can’t,” Fanny sighed. “I absolutely love English and history and astronomy. And I adore music class. But math . . . I should write a ‘poem of frustration’ about it.” Then she added, “And I ought to write a poem about Braille. I just cannot read those little dots with my fingers! I do much better when the teachers read the books out loud to us.”

“I’m sure it would be a funny poem, if you did write one,” said Anna. “You made the whole group laugh after supper the other night when you said,

‘Now just as sure as I’m a sinner,

I know I’ve had a very good dinner!’ ”

“Yes, and I laughed the hardest of all,” chuckled Fanny. “I mean to be a very famous poetess one day. I’m going to show them that a blind person can do just as well as a seeing person.”

Fanny became popular at the school. She could play several instruments, sing, and make funny jokes. Most of all, she could think up poetry from morning till night. She even wrote several poems for the Institution in honor of special people or special occasions. Fanny began to be well known not just in the school, but in the whole city!

One day Fanny was called into the office of Dr. Jones, the school superintendent. “You sent for me, sir?” she asked. She wondered what kind of poetry she would be asked to write this time.

“Yes, I did, Miss Crosby,” Dr. Jones answered. “I have been told that our young poetess is becoming very proud of her accomplishments.”

Fanny didn’t know what to say. “I . . . uh . . . well . . .” she faltered.

“Miss Crosby,” he continued, “do not depend on the praise of men. Think more about what you can become rather than what people will think of you.”

Fanny was speechless. Dr. Jones continued. “Remember that whatever talents you have belong to God. You ought to give Him the credit for all that you do.”

Fanny felt the tears stinging her eyes. For a moment she sat still. But then, suddenly, she practically jumped out of her chair. She came around the desk to hug the surprised Dr. Jones. “Thank you for saying that, Dr. Jones!” she cried. “You spoke to me as my father would have if he had been living. I will remember your words.”

It wasn’t long before Dr. Jones called Fanny into his office again. “Miss Crosby,” he said, “I believe you are spending too much time on your rhymes. You are not spending enough time on your studies. Because of that, you may not write any poetry for three months.”

“No poetry—” Fanny took a gasping breath. She couldn’t believe it. “But poetry constantly comes into my mind! How can I keep that from happening?”

“You can’t stop it from coming into your mind,” Dr. Jones answered. “But you can keep yourself from thinking about it. You can refuse to say it out loud.”

It was a very sad young lady who left Dr. Jones’s office that morning. As the days went by, Fanny became more and more discouraged. She could hardly eat or sleep. Her studies didn’t improve. Instead, they failed miserably.

“What is the matter with you, Miss Crosby?” Dr. Jones finally asked her. “Why are you doing such poor work lately?”

“Oh, Dr. Jones,” Fanny replied, “I just can’t do anything, really. Poetry fills my mind. But you have told me that I can’t say any of it or even think about it. I’m so miserable! I can’t think about anything else.”

Dr. Jones had to chuckle. “Very well, Miss Crosby,” he replied. “Just pay more attention in your classes. You can think about your poetry.”

From that time on, Fanny became one of the best students in the school. Her poetry became more and more well known. Important people began to visit the blind school just so they could meet Fanny Crosby.

In the summer of 1842, Fanny traveled with some of the other students to other parts of New York state. When she got back, she asked a friend to help her write a letter to her mother.

Mother Dear,

I’ve just returned from our big trip up the Hudson River and along the Erie Canal. What a time we had! Twenty students and three teachers all traveling together by boat! But it was a time I shall never forget.

At every town we stopped to put on our presentation to raise money for the Institution. I played the harp and the piano for them. We sang together, and I sang solos. I also recited poetry, of course, just as I do back at school.

I think a lot of the people who came to see us were there just because they were curious. They didn’t think blind people could do anything, you know! Every place we stopped, the people were amazed. Many people gave money, so our trip was a success.

Mother you wouldn’t believe some of the funny questions people ask! One that I hear most often is, “When you eat, how do you get the food to your mouth?” It seemed like such a silly question that I thought up a silly answer. Now I tell people, “I tie one end of a string to the table leg. I tie the other end to my tongue. Then I work the food up along the string until it finally gets to my mouth.” Some of the people aren’t sure whether or not to believe me!

Oh, Mother dear, I can never thank you enough for sending me to the Institution. It’s hard for both of us to be separated from one another, but this is the place where I belong.

Your loving daughter,