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Mary Elizabeth Bliss Willson 1842 ~ 1906


Born May 1, 1842, in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. Her father Mr. Bliss, was a very religious man. Her mother Lydia Bliss, a Christian woman. Her only brother was the noted evangelist singer and hymn writer, P. P. Bliss. While Mary Bliss was quite young the family removed to Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

When she was fifteen years of age she accompanied her brother into Bradford County, where her brother taught a select school. They made their home with a family named Young, who were very musical, and the daughter of this family gave P. P. Bliss his first lessons in singing, and eventually became his wife. In 1858 Mary Bliss began teaching; and taught until 1860, when she married Clark Willson of Towanda, Pennsylvania. Her brother will be remembered not only through his evangelical work but as the author of "Hold the Fort."

He and his wife lost their lives in the terrible railway wreck of Ashtabula Bridge on December 29, 1876. Mr. and Mrs. Willson were urged by a friend, Major Whittle, to assist him in his evangelistic work in Chicago and they accepted this call. Their work as Gospel singers was so successful that they made this their life work.

In 1878 Francis Murphy, the apostle of temperance, invited them to aid him in what was known as the Red Ribbon Crusade. They visited the principal cities of the Northern and Southern states and everywhere met with great success. Mrs. Willson was known as the Jenny Lind of sacred melody. In 1880 Mr. and Mrs. Willson spent several months in Great Britain in the Gospel Temperance work and Mrs. Willson's voice was as much admired in England as in her home country.

She has written several hymns and sacred songs. Among the most popular are: "Glad Tidings," "My Mother's Hands" and "Papa Come This Way." She was also the author of two volumes of Gospel Hymns and songs entitled "Great Joys" and "Sacred Gems." She contributed words and music to most of the Gospel song books for a number of years.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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