She was born on June 28, 1851, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and spent her life in Philadelphia. Her father, James Stratton Hewitt, was a sea captain who was born in New Jersey in 1823. Her mother was Zeruiah Edmunds also born in New Jersey in 1823. She was the second child, and the first daughter of the family. Her father was 27 and her mother 26 when she was born.
In 1860, her father, James Hewitt, was 37, and her mother, Zeruiah was 26. Her older brother, George, was a 12 year old student, she was a nine year old student, Mary was a six year old student, James was five, Luther was three, and Dennis was one year old. Her family had $4000 in assets (in 2012 values about $1,450,000). All the children were born in Pennsylvania.
She attended the public schools of Philadelphia and graduated valedictorian of her class at the Girl’s Normal School of Philadelphia, and became a school teacher.
In 1870, after the Civil War, her father was 47 and a sea captain. Her mother was 46 and keeping house. Her father assets had dwindled to $500 (in 2012 values about $129,000), less than a tenth of his assets before the War. George was 21 and a clerk in the military. Eliza was 18 and a school teacher. The younger children were students: James, 15; Luther, 13; and Dennis, 11 years old.
She taught school, but became bedridden because of a spinal condition. The illness may have come from a boy being disciplined striking her in the back with a heavy slate. She was put in a heavy cast for six months.
As an an invalid for an extended period, she developed a love of God and the Scriptures, and the hope of sharing with others in written form. She wrote Sunday School literature and children’s poems. She wrote a poem for her pastor during this time entitled “Winning Souls for Jesus” and it was placed in the corner stone of Tabernacle Presbyterian Church of West Philadelphia. After this she some motion songs for a friend to use in the primary grades in Sunday School. Professor J.R. Sweney saw some of her work and wrote to her asking for some contributions he could put to music. This led to her becoming known by Professor W.J. Kirkpatrick, and she wrote most of her poems for him to use.
Her mother died during this time in Apr. 1880. Her father was 57 and still a sea captain. Their house was at 804 South 10th Street in Philadelphia (their house has been removed). Her older brother, George, was still single, at home and working as a doctor. Eliza was 29 and at home. Mary was back home and a 27 year old school teacher. James was 25 and a salesman. Luther was 23 and a lawyer. Dennis was 21 and a salesman. They had a widowed aunt living with them and a cousin who did the housekeeping.
Her condition eventually improved and she was able to return to an active life in Christian ministry. She wrote “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today” after getting her body cast off and being allowed a walk in the nearby park, in thankfulness at the joy of being able to get about again!
In 1900 she was 48 years old and living with her older brother and sister. They lived at 878 N. 25th Street (the house has been replaced), which they rented. George was a 51 year old doctor with an M.D. Eliza was a writer for a newspaper. Mary was a 46 year old school teacher. All three were single. A cousin, Abbie Crowell, was 58, and living with them.
She was very committed to reaching children through Sunday Schools and attended the Methodist Camp meetings in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. She worked with the Methodist District Superintendant’s wife, Emily Wilson, on the hymn poem, “When We All Get to Heaven.” Her goal was to reach children through her poems with the message of the gospel.
She was the superintendent of the Sunday school at the Northern Home for Friendless Children and an active member of the Mt. Olivet Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.
Hymns she wrote:
She was a close friend of Fanny Crosby and the two often met to have fellowship and talk about hymns. She was a cousin of the hymn writer, Edgar Page Stites, and worked with other well known hymn writers like Charles Gabriel, Homer Rodeheaver, and E.S. Lorenz.
She was very grateful of hearing not only from Philadelphia, but also around the world, how her poems and hymns had helped people. She grouped the stories into a talk she would give entitled, “Around the World on the Wings of Song.”
In August, 1905, her brother, George, died in New Jersey. He had been a medical doctor, trained at Thomas Jefferson University Medical College receiving his degree in 1877. He was an Allopath, meaning he did not just treat symptoms, but also treated the underlying causes of the symptoms. So if a person had a fever, he not only would reduce the fever, but also gave the person antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection that may be causing the fever.
When she moved to another section of Philadelphia, she joined the Calvin Presbyterian Church and was the primary department Sunday School superintendent until she died.
In 1910, it was just the three ladies in a rented house at 5514 Wyalusing Ave, Philadelphia. Eliza was 58 and a self-employed music teacher. Mary was 56 and a school teacher. The cousin, Abbie Crowell, was 67 and taking care of the house.
She died in Philadelphia on Apr 24, 1920, at the age of 68, and was buried in the Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Jacob Henry Hall, Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1914), pp. 345-347; photo from p. 344.
Mary Hammack, L., A Dictionary of Women in Church History, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), “Hewitt, Eliza Edmunds.”
Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1985), p. 181.
Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymns Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1996), p. 100.
William J. Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1976), pp. 141, 142, 194, 221, 222, 337.
Cinnamonntoast4 “Eliza Edmunds Hewitt”; Jim Tipton, Find A Grave (Salt Lake City, Utah: Find A Grave, 1995-), www.findagrave.com accessed Jun 15, 2013.
Ancestry (Provo, Utah: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2011), www.ancestry.com public records accessed Jun 15, 2013.