Lizzie DeArmond and fleeting fame

No one escapes the passage of time and the waning of fame. Fanny Crosby wrote over 8000 hymns, yet current hymnals generally contain less than 10 of her compositions. Her heyday was at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. In going through a variety of hymnals from the first quarter of the 20th century, I found many names over and over. Today, they are totally absent. One such writer was Lizzie DeArmond, One hymnal, Jubilant Voices, published in 1905, has 28 of her hymns, far outstripping the numbers of any other hymnist. A go-to website for me, cyberhymnal.org, lists over 800 of her hymns, none of which I knew. How but a wisp of breath we all are on earth!

Lizzie was born in Philadelphia in 1847. At age 12, her first poem was printed in the local paper. After graduating from the State Normal School in West Chester PA, she went on to be teach school. When she began to raise her eight children, she stayed at home until her children were grown. But she continued to write hymns, primarily for children; articles for magazines; cantatas; and other literary works. In 1896 she organized the primary department of a community Sunday School in Swarthmore. She later wrote “If anything I have written has helped to lift one soul above the cares and worries of everyday life and brought it nearer to the great loving heart of Jesus, the joy is mine, but the glory belongs to God.”

“Good Night and Good Morning” was perhaps her most famous hymn. In 1922, she couldn’t shake the grief of losing her daughter and wrote: “When God called my girl to live with Him, I felt I could not spare her, and it left an ache in my heart that was difficult to bear. . . . Why should it be my child? . . . Then, one night, . . . there came me the words as if spoken from the sky: ‘We Christians do not sorrow without hope. We do have to say good bye to our loved ones here, but we have that glorious hope of good morning over there.’ I hastened to my room where the poem took form. God gave me a song . . . “. This song so touched those at the time that it was sung at evangelist Billy Sunday’s funeral in 1935 as well as gangster John Dillinger’s funeral in 1934. It was also sung at her own funeral at the Swarthmore Pennsylvania Presbyterian Church in 1936.

So which of our now famous hymn writers will be all but forgotten in the next few decades? Most of them, I think, but I can rejoice in the faith that there will be many more waiting to take their places.

The Irony of America The Beautiful

Due to the vicissitudes of life and constraints of time, I have been ignoring this blog. But the idea of further exposition of women already in my book came upon me yesterday. The wonderful pastor of my church asked me to speak on “America the Beautiful” and it appeared to go well. Why not expound further? So here goes:

In 1893 when Katherine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful”, our country was undergoing turmoil. In January, the US. Marines intervened in Hawaii to overthrow their queen. In May, there was a crash and panic on the New York Stock Exchange thus beginning a depression. This followed the failures of the Reading Railroad and the National Cordage Company. New forms of racial segregation came into being. Mississippi enacted a literacy test for voting with a grandfather clause allowing illiterate whites to vote if their fathers or grandfathers could vote before 1866. Thus, the election of 1892 barred blacks from voting there. Veterans of the Civil War were still around and many lacked limbs from that conflict. Ellis Island opened in 1892 and within one year, over 450,000 came crowding into ghettos. The rich were getting richer and the poor, poorer. This was part of the impetus of Teddy Roosevelt’s later trust busting activities. Women couldn’t vote, but movement for women’s suffrage was underway. It was a crime to be an overt homosexual in most places. It was against this backdrop that Bates, a probable lesbian, wrote her hymn.

America obviously had and still has great physical beauty. Bates’ observation of the mountains from Pikes Peak and the fields of grain in Kansas stunned her. But she was educated and knew of all the history and issues in the country. While admiring the grandeur of our country, she also asked that God “mend thine every flaw” and that our people be “crowned with brotherhood”. The flaws of yesterday still exist in some form today. May her hymn, her prayer, be answered yet.