Elizabeth Payson Prentiss was an American author, well known for her hymn "More Love to Thee, O Christ" and the religious novel Stepping Heavenward (1869). Her writings enjoyed renewed popularity in the late 20th century.
Elizabeth Payson was born in Portland, Maine, United States, the fifth of eight children (only six survived infancy) of the eminent Congregationalist pastor Edward Payson. The influences of New England Christianity, consisting of the inherited Puritan foundation with added evangelistic, missional, and philanthropic elements, were evident in the Payson family. The family gathered for prayer three times a day. Elizabeth was deeply impacted by the death of her father, who had suffered from tuberculosis for over a year, on October 22, 1827. The family moved to New York City in 1831, and in May of that year, Elizabeth made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ and joined the Bleecker Street Presbyterian Church.
From an early age, Elizabeth exhibited sharp mental abilities, deep and ready sympathy, and an exceptional perceptiveness. By age 16, Elizabeth had become a regular contributor of stories and poems to "The Youth's Companion," a New England religious periodical.
In 1838, she opened a small girls' school in her home and took up a Sabbath-school class as well. Two years later, she left for Richmond, Virginia, to be a department head at a girls' boarding school.
In 1845, she married George Lewis Prentiss, a brother of her close friend Anna Prentiss Stearns. The Prentisses settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where George became pastor of South Trinitarian Church. After a happy time of transitioning into the duties of a pastor's wife and a housewife, in 1852 she lost, within a period of three months, her second and third children – one as a newborn, one at age four.
In 1851, George Prentiss became the pastor of Mercer Street Presbyterian Church in New York City. Though Elizabeth struggled with chronic health problems, she went on to have three more healthy children. "Little Little Lou's Sayings and Doings, published in 1868, included her poem "Mr. Nobody" which went on to become a children's classic. The poem is often mistakenly attributed to "anonymous" or the later poet Walter de la Mare. Her first book of stories, Little Susy's Six Birthdays, written in just ten days, was published in 1853. In 1856, following the nearly fatal illness of her daughter Minnie, she wrote the hymn "More Love to Thee."
After George Prentiss resigned from his church in New York because of failing health, the family went abroad to Europe for a couple of years. In 1860, they returned to New York, where George resumed his pastorate and held a chair at Union Theological Seminary. Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss's most popular book, was published in installments by the Chicago Advance in 1869.
The family eventually settled in Dorset, Vermont, where Elizabeth would die in 1878 at the age of 59. Her hymn "More Love to Thee" was sung at her funeral. After her death, George Prentiss published The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss (1882), citing his wife's words in the book's preface: "Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to use it for strengthening and comforting other souls."
Books by Elizabeth Prentiss
Stepping Heavenward is the journal of a girl named Katherine Mortimer. Katy meets a young man who she loves & wants to marry but her mother is very much against their plans. But Katy’s life goes on through her marriage & motherhood and many tragedies...
In the quaint, close-knit community of Aunt Jane, a hidden hero's journey unfolds. "Aunt Jane's Hero" by Elizabeth Prentiss unfurls a captivating tale of love, faith, and the transformative power of compassion. Amidst the picturesque backdrop of a s...