Anne Steele was the daughter of William Steele III and his first wife, Anne Froude (1684-1720). Her brother was William Steele IV (“Philander’); her half-sister was Mary (“Amira”), later Mary Wakeford. Anne’s mother died when she was three, but her stepmother, Anne Cator Steele, a prolific diarist herself, treated her as her own daughter. Anne never married, devoting herself instead to her family and her poetry. Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional was published in London in 1760, and reprinted in Bristol in 1780 in a posthumous edition of the same title, which also added a third volume, Miscellaneous Pieces, in Verse and Prose, all under the nom de plume “Theodosia” (she also used “Silviana” as her literary persona in many of her unpublished poems). Her hymns gained immediate popularity. Caleb Evans and John Ash, Baptist ministers at Bristol and Pershore, included sixty-two hymns by Steele in their 1769 hymnal, A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship (Bristol, 1769); John Rippon, influential Baptist minister in Southwark, used 47 in his widely circulated A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors (London, 1787); and an American hymnal published in Boston in 1808 used 59 of her hymns, nearly one-third of the total number of hymns in the book. Louis F. Benson contended in 1915 that Anne Steele was the “foremost Baptist hymn-writer.” J. R. Watson has gone even further, arguing that Anne Steele is the first major woman hymn writer of any denomination. As Richard Arnold notes, “Admittedly, many of [Steele’s] hymns have by now fallen out of use, but the fact remains that for more than a hundred years from the time of their first appearance they ranked with those of the three or four most widely read hymn-writers.”
Daniel Sedgwick produced an edition of Steele’s hymns in 1863, prefaced by a biographical sketch provided by John Sheppard of Frome, a Baptist writer and friend of the Steele family. J. R. Broome reprinted the Sedgwick edition in 1967, adding new information on Steele’s life in his Introduction, material later developed into his biography of Steele, A Bruised Reed (2007). All the poetry and prose of Anne Steele found in the 1760 and 1780 editions, as well as her extremely rare collection, Verses for Children (Salisbury, 1788; other editions in 1803, 1806). Anne Steele’s impressive body of published poetry, prose, and letters is now in print in Timothy Whelan, gen. ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vols 1-2, ed. Julia B. Griffin. See also Louis Benson, The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), 214; J. R. Watson, The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 191; Richard Arnold, “A ‘Veil of Interposing Night’: The Hymns of Anne Steele (1717-78),” Christian Scholar’s Review 18 (1989), 373.