Jesus Loves Me. Who doesn’t remember singing this in summer Bible School? I certainly do, but I didn’t know the history until now…
Anna and Susan Warner lived in a lovely townhouse in NYC where their father was a successful lawyer. But the “Panic of 1837” wrecked the family’s finances, forcing them to move into a ramshackle Revolutionary War-era home across from West Point.
Suddenly the girls needed to contribute to the family household income, so they began writing poems and stories for publication. Anna wrote, “Robinson Crusoe’s Farmyard,” and Susan wrote, “The Wide, Wide World.” The girls went on to launch parallel literary careers that resulted in 106 publications, eighteen of them together.
One of their most successful joint projects was a novel titled Say and Seal in which a little boy named Johnny Fox is dying. His Sunday school teacher comforted him by taking him in his arms, rocking him and making up a song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”
The novel became a best-seller; and when hymn writer William Bradbury read the words he composed a musical score to go along with them. Soon Jesus Loves Me became the best-known children’s hymn in America.
Despite their success, the Warner sisters never seemed able to recover from the staggering financial reverses of 1836. For forty years, Susan and Anna conducted Bible classes for cadets at West Point, and both were buried with full military honors. They are the only civilians buried in the military cemetery at West Point. To this day, their home is maintained by West Point as a museum.