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.