Annie Sherwood Hawks

28 May 1835–3 January 1918

Annie Hawks, A Woman of the Century, ed. Frances Willard & Mary Livermore (Buffalo, N.Y.: C.W. Moulton, 1893), p. 365.

MRS. ANNIE SHERWOOD HAWKS, poet and hymn writer, born in Hoosick, N.Y., 28th May, 1835. Her maiden name was Sherwood. Her ancestry on her father’s side was English, and on her mother’s side, remotely, Holland Dutch. She was never graduated from any school, but she always had a passion for books and read widely. In her fourteenth year her genius began to find expression in verse. The first poem which she published appeared in a Troy, N.Y., newspaper. That poem at once attracted attention and was followed by others which were printed in various local papers.

Miss Sherwood became the wife, in 1859, of Charles Hial Hawks, a resident of Hoosick. Mr. Hawks was a man of culture and intelligence, and he understood and appreciated his wife. In January, 1865, Mr. and Mrs. Hawks removed to Brooklyn, N.Y., in which city Mrs. Hawks still makes her home. Her husband died there in 1888. They had three children, one of whom, a daughter, is now living.

Mrs. Hawks has always been identified with the Baptist denomination. In 1868, her pastor and friend, Rev. Dr. Robert Lowry, requested her to turn her attention to hymn writing. She did so, and wrote, among many others, “In the valley,” “Good Night,” and “Why Weepest Thou?” In 1872, the hymn by which she is most widely known, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” was written. Dr. Lowry sets all her hymns to music. Though Mrs. Hawks is chiefly known as a writer of hymns, she has by no means put her best work in them alone. She has written many noble poems.

A Woman of the Century (1893)
ed. Frances Willard & Mary Livermore

Few of the millions of people, old or young, who have heard, sung, or read the beautiful hymn [“I need Thee every hour,”] know that its writer, Mrs. Annie Sherwood Hawks, is still living, and “carries on an extensive correspondence with friends all over the country, and receives many visitors.” She is the last of three women hymn writers whose fame is world-wide — the other two, both of whom were blind, being Fanny Crosby, who died recently, and Alice Holmes, who went to her reward over a year ago.

Mrs. Hawks began writing verse at an early age — her first being printed during her fourteenth year. Later in life her friend and pastor, the Rev. Robert Lowry, encouraged her to write song-poems, to which he composed music. She is the author of over four hundred hymns, among which may be mentioned:— “In the Valley,” “Good Night,” “Why Weepest Thou,” “Who’ll Be the Next,” etc., but the one by which she is best known is “I Need Thee Every Hour,” written in [1872]. It is said that this hymn has been translated into more foreign languages than any other of modern times. Mrs. Hawks says of it:

Whenever my attention is called to it I am conscious of great satisfaction in the thought that I was permitted to write the hymn ‘I Need Thee Every Hour,’ and that it was wafted out to the world on the wings of love and joy, rather than under the stress of a great personal sorrow, with which it has so often been associated in the minds of those who sing it.

I remember well the morning, many years ago, when in the midst of the daily cares of my home, then in a distant city, I was so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him either in joy or pain, these words ‘I Need Thee Every Hour’ were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me. Seating myself by the open window in the balmy air of the bright June day I caught my pencil and the words were soon committed to paper, almost as they are being sung today. It was only by accident, it would seem, that they were set to music a few months after and sung for the first time at a Sunday School Convention held in one of the large western cities. From there they were taken farther west and sung by thousands of voices before the echo came back to me, thrilling my heart with surprise and gladness.

For myself, the hymn was prophetic rather than expressive of my own experience at the time it was written, and I do not understand why it so touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long years after, when the shadow fell over my way — the shadow of a great loss — that I understood something of the comforting in the words I had been permitted to write and give out to others in my hours of sweet security and peace. Now when I hear them sung, as I have sometimes, by hundreds of voices in chorus, I find it difficult to think they were ever, consciously, my own thought or penned by my own hand. Copies of the hymn have been sent to me in a number of different languages, but the one I prize most highly is the one printed in the, to me, queer and untranslatable characters of the Burmese print.

Women have ever held an exalted position among the writers of hymns that have been and are a strong factor in turning the hearts of men and women to God, moulding religious life and keeping the spiritual fires burning. That their words have been carried to the remotest ends of the earth is but small recognition of their help, comfort, and uplift to the entire world of mankind. Mrs. Hawks was born at Hoosack, N.Y., in May, 1835. Her maiden name was Annie Sherwood. She was married in 1859 to Charles Hial Hawks, who died in 1888. Of three children, a daughter remains, with whom Mrs. Hawks resides. The following excerpts from a letter received from her recently will be of interest:

July 27, 1915

Dear Mr. Gabriel:

You see I have begun a letter to you — when it will be finished is a problem. … I note a rather remarkable coincidence that a Gabriel wrote “The Glory Song.” … My health for five years has been that of semi-invalidism. I go out very little and have not been out of my room much since my recent illness. Owing to the fact that I was not sufficiently careful of my eyesight, I am now paying the penalty, and obliged to use them sparingly. … I must close now to resume the letter later on, but just here let me say, lest I forget to mention it, I am very fond of “The Glory Song” — it is very inspiring to me.

July 29. I am pleased to write that I am very much better in health than when I received yours of May 24th, and hope to continue to improve, although my condition is not favorable to writing today, as I used my eyes too much yesterday.

With thanks for your kindness and courtesy,
Sincerely yours,

Annie Sherwood Hawks

The prayers of a Christian world ascend for the one who in the twilight of a long life of service to her Master still is singing: “I need Thee ev’ry hour, in joy or pain; come quickly, and abide, or life is vain.”

by Charles H. Gabriel
The Singers and Their Songs (1916)


 Featured Hymns:

I need thee every hour

Related Resources:

Henry S. Burrage, “Mrs. Annie S. Hawks,” Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns (Portland: Brown Thurston, 1888), p. 477-479: Archive.org

John Julian, “Annie Sherwood Hawks,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), p. 499.

“Mrs. Annie Sherwood Hawks,” A Woman of the Century, ed. Frances Willard & Mary Livermore (Buffalo, N.Y.: C.W. Moulton, 1893), p. 365: Archive.org

Charles H. Gabriel, The Singers and Their Songs: Sketches of Living Gospel Hymn Writers (Chicago: Rodeheaver, 1916), pp. 37-40: Archive.org

Jane Stuart Smith & Betty Carlson, “Annie S. Hawks,” Favorite Women Hymn Writers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), pp. 55-58.

Bert Polman & J.R. Watson, “Annie Sherwood Hawks,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
http://www.hymnology.co.uk/a/annie-sherwood-hawks

Annie S. Hawks, Hymnary.org:
https://hymnary.org/person/Hawks_Annie