A Tribute to Fathers of Hymnwriters (A Day Late)

No hymn writer of any gender works in a vacuum.  All carry the influence of others.  In going through the women I studied to date, there are some fathers who stand out, especially those who encouraged their daughters in an era when daughters were generally encouraged to stay home, marry, and produce children, not hymns or anything involving the intellect. 


Cecil Humphreys Alexander’s father, John, was a demanding officer in the Royal Marines.  Cecil was unsure of his approval, and so hid her writings under the carpet.  But when John Humphreys discovered them when Cecil was only nine, he made a box with a slot on top for her to place her poems.  He set aside Saturday evenings to read them to the family.  Thus, began the writing career of the writer of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, “Jesus Calls Us” and “Once in Royal David’s City”. 


Margaret Douroux, composer of “Give Me a Clean Heart” was the daughter of a Baptist pastor who made sure she performed as an accompanist in his church.  Margaret was exposed to many gospel singers at the home, including Mahalia Jackson.  So influential was he that she founded the Reverend Edward A Pleasant Publishing Company.


Frances Havergal’s father was so proud of her intellect that he called her “Little Quicksilver”.  She lived up to his assessment as a linguist, singer, and poet.  So often, we live up or down to the expectations of parents, and no doubt her father was a mighty influence in her life of accomplishment.


Like Margaret Douroux, Mahalia Jackson also began her career singing in her pastor father’s Baptist church beginning at the age of four.  So strong was his influence that she sang only sacred music.


Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher surely influenced the abolitionist fire in Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Yes, she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but she also wrote the hymn, “Still, Still With Thee”.


Daniel Webster Whittle was so sure of his daughter, May Whittle Moody’s talent that he collaborated with her in hymn writing.  She often helped him and Dwight Moody in their evangelistic campaigns.  One day in 1893, Daniel wrote the words to “Moment by Moment” and confidently gave them to her to write the music.  It is now a standard.


And Eben Tourjee, a famed music educator, organist and composer was proud of daughter Lizzie’s musical talent.  When she was only seventeen, she wrote the music we most commonly sing to “There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy”.  When he became editor of the Methodist hymnal, he made sure to include her tune in the 1878 edition, naming the tune “Wellesley” after the school she attended.


There are many other stories of fathers who encourage and nurture their daughters’ talents, and so many go unknown and uncelebrated.  Let’s celebrate them today.  They know who they are.  Thank you all.