Phoebe Worrall Palmer (1807-1874), mother of Phoebe Palmer Knapp, was one of the most widely known women of the nineteenth century. Phoebe Palmer was born in New York City on December 18, 1807 to Henry and Doreth Wade Worrall. On September 28, 1827, Phoebe Worrall married Walter C. Palmer, a Methodist Episcopal Church lay leader, lay preacher, and homeopathic physician in New York City.
The resources received from Walter’s practice allowed Phoebe to extend her speaking and writing career. As a result, Phoebe’s influence was felt well beyond the borders of the religious life of nineteenth-century America. From 1840 until her death in 1874, she conducted a well-attended prayer meeting and fellowship in her New-York-city home known as the “Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness.” She traveled extensively as a guest speaker to revivals, special services, and camp meetings in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. In addition to her speaking responsibilities, Phoebe undertook extensive writing assignments. Among her literary legacy are well-known works, including The Way of Holiness Entire Devotion to God (1845), Faith and Its Effects (1848), and Promise of the Father (1858). In addition, she edited the Guide to Holiness, one of the nation’s most widely circulated religious monthlies, from 1864 to 1874. Having retired early from his practice, Walter traveled with Phoebe as a preaching team from 1859 to her death in 1874.
The Palmers had six children, three of which died in infancy. Of the three surviving children, two were girls, Sarah and Phoebe, and a son, Walter Clark, Jr. It was name-sake Phoebe who was to follow in the spiritual footsteps of her mother, though she would never realize the same level of notoriety afforded to her mother. Daughter Phoebe was born March 9, 1839 in New York City. At the tender age of 16, Phoebe married a dedicated Sunday school worker by the name of Joseph Fairfield Knapp, one of the founders and the second president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
As members of the St. John’s Methodist Church in New York City, they were afforded the friendship of one of St. John’s most beloved members, Fanny J. Crosby, the famed blind hymn writer. Perhaps it was Miss Crosby’s example that encouraged Phoebe Palmer Knapp to write the tunes for more than 500 hymns. But her greatest success was to come through a collaborative effort with Miss Crosby. One day Phoebe completed the composition of a tune, and with a sense of its uniqueness impressed upon her heart, she made her way to Miss Crosby’s home in Brooklyn. After playing the tune, she turned from the piano to see Fanny kneeling in prayer. Thinking she had not heard it, Phoebe played it once again. Later Fanny would reflect upon that experience in the following words: “My friend, Mrs. Knapp, composed a melody, and played it over to me two or three times on the piano. She then asked me what it said, and I immediately replied, ‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!'” Within a few minutes of having heard the tune, Fanny had effortlessly composed three verses and a chorus for Phoebe’s new tune, and in 1873, their joint effort, “Blessed Assurance,” was published for the Christian world to celebrate.
The text and tune of this much-loved hymn has bathed the sorrowing brow of many saints, and its use in the church from its publication more than a century ago to the very present speaks volumes of its enduring and endearing qualities. Of the nearly nine thousand hymns which Fanny Crosby wrote over her lifetime, “Blessed Assurance” remained one of her most cherished. This hymn was so well loved by Miss Crosby that she chose the first verse for the inscription on her headstone at her death in 1915.
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