Catherine Winkworth, translator extraordinaire

Though Sisters in Song did not include translators, there is certainly a place to include this important contribution to hymnody in a history of women.  Catherine Winkworth is best known for introducing the German chorale tradition to English speakers.   Her translations of German hymns have had more influence on modern use in England than any other versions.  And of course, this would extend to use in the United States.

She was born in London, the fourth daughter of a silk merchant.  Though Anglican, she studied under a Unitarian minister, William Gaskell.   She spent a year in Dresden where she became interested in German hymnody, particularly after the German ambassador to England sent her a copy of a devotional book of German hymnody, Andachtsbuch.  By 1854 she published Lyra Germanica, a compilation of her English translation of German hymns   This was the start of four books of German hymn collections.  Her writing went beyond hymns and included two biographies of women who founded sisterhoods for the poor and sick.  She was not just a translator, however.  She was devoted to women’s rights and was the secretary of the Clifton Association for Higher Education for Women.  In addition, she supported Clifton High School for Girls where today a house is named after her.   She was a member of the Cheltenham Ladies College and governor of the Red Maids’ School in Westbury–on-Tym in Bristol.  On July 1, 1878 while in Geneva, Switzerland to take care of a bedfast nephew, she had chest pains and within a half hour, she had passed away.  Today she is commemorated on August 7 as a hymn writer on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA), and on the Calendar of Saints of the ELCA on July 1.

Her most famous translations include “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”, written by Joachim Neander, “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee” by Georg Newmark, “Now Thank We All Our God” by Martin Rinckart, and “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” by Georg Weissel.    What a blessing her work has been to English speakers!

Jewish women and hymnody

Thank you, Kerry Hollander, for helping me.

Jewish women have not been as active in writing hymns as their Christian counterparts, perhaps because until recently, ordained cantors were all men.  Sacred song was more traditional, primarily from the Orthodox point of view, and generally in Hebrew.  However, in the past century and a half, there has been what seems to me a blossoming of Jewish song from women.

Before 1800, most writings of Jewish women were private letters and prayers for home use.    By the mid nineteenth century, published poetry by Jewish women began appearing.  One of the better known of American Jewish poets was Penina Moise (1797-1880) from Charleston South Carolina.   She began her work with embroidery and lace making to help support her family.  Later, she was known for her poetry.  Her biggest claim to fame was as the main author of the first American Jewish hymnal, Hymns Written for the Use of Hebrew Congregations, published in 1842 for Congregation Beth Elohim, to which she belonged.  Her hymns, like those of most Christian women of the era, were written as poems and later adapted into song.   She wrote over 190 hymns.  The Union Hymnal, published in 1897 and still used after several revisions, has more of her hymns than of any other author.

Another poet who was familiar to me as the author of “The New Colossus” now inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, was Emma Lazarus (1849-1887).  She was a Sephardic Jew from a wealthy family with long American roots.   Though her identity as a Jew was strong even in childhood, it intensified after 1881 when thousands of Russian Jews fled to America from the pogroms.  Thus, we see the inspiration of her poem, later set to music by a Russian Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin.

In the twentieth century, before and especially after 1948, Jewish women in Israel, as well as elsewhere, did write hymns and poems.  After 1948, the influx of thousands of Jews into Israel also brought an influx of various cultural and spiritual heritages.    Yemenite women, in particular, wrote and sang songs in the vernacular that were adopted generally as part of Israeli culture.

I, though, am most interested in Jewish women who write in English.  Debbie Lynn Friedman (1951-2011) and Julie Silver, who still writes, have penned lovely hymns and inspirational songs in both English and Hebrew.  They are just two examples of the now increasing visibility of Jewish women hymn writers.


Umansky, Ellen and Ashton, Diane, eds.  Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality.  Boston:  Beacon Press.  1992.

Rosemary Crow — “Weave”

It took some googling, poking around and sleuthing to find out about this talented woman.  I finally tracked her down and interviewed her by phone this month.   She was born in New Jersey, the daughter of a commercial airline pilot, but moved to Florida as an infant and raised in the Methodist church.  However, after she got to Salem College in Winston-Salem North Carolina, she became enamored of the liturgy of the Episcopal Church and remains a faithful member today.  She got a degree in music and a Master’s degree in education followed by a long career teaching music in public schools.  She combined her love of music and church by directing church choirs in her Episcopal church in Asheville, North Carolina.  Today, she is retired and spends half the year in Asheville, and the other half in Florida.

“Weave” is a beautiful ecumenical song written in 1979.  She said when her home church got a new rector from Australia, he was obviously new and different.  In his first sermon he said that he felt God led him to them and the rector was waiting to see how God would weave their lives together.  That sermon, plus the Quaker sharing of the peace, “The Christ in me greets the Christ in thee” inspired the song.   When three branches of the Lutheran church merged, they used this song as a theme.  Shortly thereafter, the Girl Scouts adopted it as a song.   The 1984 Girl Scout/Girl Guides world conference in New York used it as their theme song.  The hymn is in their songbook as well as in the Chalice Hymnal used by the Disciples of Christ.   Upon listening to it, I think it would make a haunting round suitable for any denomination open to the love of God found in each person.




Melody Green – There Is a Redeemer

I sometimes go to the local public library looking for music books with hymns I could use for preludes and such at Rocheport Christian Church.  I came across a recent hymn, “There Is a Redeemer” by Melody Green.  I will probably use that in the next month or two as the tune is very lovely and the words can speak, and apparently have spoken, to many.  

Melody was born in 1946 in Hollywood, California into an Orthodox Jewish family that had fled Russian Czarist persecution.  Her grandfather and great-grandfathers were  rabbis.  She said she always knew there was a God, but that God always felt distant.  She became involved in the hippie drug culture and worked in the garment industry in Los.Angeles.  She married Keith Green, an aspiring musician, and in 1975, they both came to Christ after being invited to a small Bible study.  God became real and personal to them.  They became immersed in ministry work and music in California and Texas, their new home.  

Keith and two of their children were killed in a plane crash in 1982 leaving Melody with a baby and expecting yet another.  After the initial shock, Melody expanded their ministry to international scope and has been active on several fronts.  Her organization’s own website,, features the words of “There is a Redeemer” at the top of her bio.   She wrote this in 1982, the year of the plane crash.    Like Horatio Spafford, who in 1873 wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” after his four daughters drowned in a shipwreck, she sustained herself and continued to grow spiritually in part with poetry and music.  “There Is a Redeeemer” is now in hymn books around the world and it’s often sung in villages in Africa and Asia.  She moved at some point to Kansas City, Missouri.  But now that her two surviving daughters are married and productive adults, she has moved or is in the process of moving back to California.