America the Beautiful

Our National Anthem…almost

Kathareine Lee Bates

      Katharine Lee Bates

In 1893, Katharine Lee Bates, an English teacher at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, agreed to take a summer teaching position at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. During her 2,000-mile train trip through Chicago, Kansas and into Colorado, the 34-year old Bates became quite impressed with the beauty and vastness of the United States.

One of the perks of being a visiting professor was a carriage ride up Pikes Peak. The horse-drawn carriage could not proceed past the Halfway House (Glen Cove), so they switched to burros for the remaining six miles of the trip.

After reveling in the views after only a half-hour on the summit of Pikes Peak, they descended again. On the way down, she wrote the following in her diary:

…we stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit…and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse of mountain ranges and the sea-like sweep of plain.”

After she returned to her room in the Antler’s Hotel that night, she remarked to friends that countries such as England had failed because, while they may have been “great”, they had not been “good” and that “unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way.”

Based on her experiences on that trip, she later wrote a poem which has now become our classic anthem “America The Beautiful.

The original four stanzas were printed on July 4, 1895, in an issue of The Congregationalist newspaper. After several revisions, the final poem was published in the Boston Evening Transcript nine years later.

Samual Ward’s hymn, “Materna” was selected as the music behind the lyrics. However, Ward died in 1903 and never knew how popular Bates’ lyrics and his music would become.

A strong push was made to adopt the hymn as the national anthem in 1926. However, President Hoover chose the “Star-Spangled Banner” instead.

In 1993, 100 years after Bates ascended Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs’ businessman Costas Rombocos donated an “America the Beautiful” monument that was placed atop Pikes Peak. The monument can be seen on the observation platform to the south of the Summit House.

While Bates retained the copyright on her poem to protect it, she never sought any payment of royalties. It was her personal gift to the country.

Lyrics to America the Beautiful

O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful, for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!

O beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, and ev’ry gain divine!

O beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!