Woman of the Century/Mary Elizabeth Willson
WILLSON, Mrs. Mary Elizabeth, gospel singer and song-writer, born in Clearfield county, Pa., 1st May. 1842. Her father, Mr. Bliss, was a man of godly principles, of simple and childlike faith. Her mother, Lydia Bliss, was a noble-hearted Christian woman. Her only brother was the singing evangelist and hymn-writer, P. P. Bliss. Of the two daughters, Mary Elizabeth is the younger. While she was still a child, the family removed to Tioga county, Pa., where Mr. Bliss bought a tract of wild land and built a modest home in a great forest of hemlocks and maples. She recalls the happy time when she roamed those grand old woods with her beloved brother, both shouting and singing in the gladness of their youthful hearts, and to their free life in the balsamic air of the forest may be attributed, in a measure, the strength of body, the clearness of voice, the naturalness of tone and manner that have distinguished her brother and herself in their rendering of Zion's songs. MARY ELIZABETH WILLSON. When she was fifteen years old, she accompanied her brother into the adjoining county of Bradford, where the latter taught a select school. They made their home with a family named Young, who were very musical. Miss Young gave P. P. Bliss his first lessons in singing and eventually became his wife. Mrs. Willson does not remember learning to read notes by sight; it seems to her that she always knew them. In 1858 she commenced to teach, and she taught until 1860, when she became the wife of Clark Willson. of Towanda, Pa., where they still have a pleasant home, to which they resort for occasional rests from their evangelistic labors. For the first sixteen years of their married life Mr. and Mrs. Willson spent considerable time in teaching music and holding musical conventions. When her brother, the author of "Hold the Fort," with his beloved wife, was killed in the disaster of Ashtabula Bridge, on 20th December, 1876, the first great sorrow of her life fell on the devoted sister. Mrs. Willson then said: "I can never again sing merely to entertain people, but if the Lord will use my voice for the salvation of men, I will go on singing." Very soon a friend and co-worker of the lamented P. P. Bliss, Major Whittle, called husband and wife to aid him in evangelistic work in Chicago. They accepted the call, and their work as gospel singers was so successful in Chicago and many other places that they at once and without reserve laid themselves on the altar of God's service. In 1878 Francis Murphy, the apostle of temperance, invited Mr. and Mrs. Willson to "sing the gospel" for him in what was known as the "Red Ribbon Crusade." They visited the principal cities of the Northern and Southern States, and everywhere Mrs. Willson won the admiration and respect of all who heard her. Thurlow Weed, in an article in the New York "Tribune," named her the "Jenny Lind of sacred melody," a term that has clung to her ever shire. In 1882 she and her husband spent several months in Great Britain, in the gospel temperance work, under the leadership of Francis Murphy. She sang to great audiences in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh. Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dublin and other cities. The British press was enthusiastic in her praise. She has written several hymns and sacred songs that, like her brother's, are being sung around the world. Among the most popular ones are "Glad Tidings," "My Mother's Hands" and "Papa, Come this Way." She is the author of two volumes of gospel hymns and songs, one entitled " Great Joy " and the other "Sacred Gems." She has contributed words and music to most of the gospel song-books published within the past twelve years. She is in the prime of her powers as a singer, composer and evangelist.