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Brown, Phoebe Hinsdale (01 May 1783–10 August 1861), hymnist and religious writer, was born in Canaan, New York, the daughter of George Hinsdale (profession unrecorded) and Phoebe Allen. Brown’s father died ten months after she was born, and her mother died shortly before her eighth birthday. Brown and her sister Lydia spent the year after their mother’s death in the home of their maternal grandparents in Norwich, Connecticut, where Brown’s grandmother treated her kindly and instructed her in reading and religion. During this period Brown demonstrated her piety, her aptitude for learning, and her desire for education by reading the Bible through three times. From the ages of nine to eighteen, however, Brown lived with her married sister Chloe and Chloe’s tyrannical and brutish husband William Noyes, Jr., in Claverack, New York. Brown was miserable during these years not only because William Noyes overworked her and treated her like a servant, but also because he forbade her to attend church and to read books....

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Crosby, Fanny (24 March 1820–12 February 1915), poet and author of gospel hymn texts, was born Frances Jane Crosby in Putnam County, New York, the daughter of John Crosby and Mercy Crosby, farmers. (Her mother’s maiden name and married name were the same.) At the age of six weeks, she developed an eye infection, for which a man falsely claiming to be a physician prescribed the application of hot poultices; the tragic result was permanent blindness. That same year her father died, and her mother went to work as a maid. Fanny was first sent to live with her grandmother, and later with a Mrs. Hawley, who realized the child’s precociousness and set her to memorizing much of the Bible. Within two years, Fanny had committed the entire Pentateuch (complete with genealogies), most of the poetic books, and the four Gospels to memory....

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Fletcher, Bridget Richardson (23 April 1726–08 June 1770), hymnist and religious poet, was born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the daughter of Zachary and Sarah Richardson. Although little is known about Fletcher’s childhood, her parents were probably farmers, as Middlesex County was largely an agricultural region and Fletcher herself writes in Hymn 2 that she did not spring from a prophet’s line, but “only of an herdsman.” Whether or not Fletcher had any formal education is uncertain. Her ability to read and write should be noted, however, since only 40 percent of women were literate during this period, and schools frequently did not admit female students. On 15 February 1745, she married Timothy Fletcher, Jr., of Westford, Massachusetts, a small community adjoining Chelmsford. She probably lived the rest of her life in this town, as the title page of her volume of hymns indicates that she is “late of Wesford [ ...