Katharine Lee Bates

About the Author of America the Beautiful

Wellesley College professor Katharine Lee Bates
Wellesley College professor Katharine Lee Bates. Bachrach/Getty Images

Katharine Lee Bates, a poet, scholar, educator, and writer, is known for writing "America the Beautiful" lyrics.  She's also known, though less widely, as a prolific poet and for her scholarly works of literary criticism, A professor of English and head of the English Department at Wellesley College who had been a student there in her earlier years, Bates was a pioneer faculty member helping build Wellesley's reputation and thereby the reputation of women's higher education.

 She lived from August 12, 1859 to March 28, 1929.

Early Life and Teaching

Her father, a Congregational minister, died when Katharine was less than a month old. Her brothers had to go to work to help support the family, but Katharine was given an education. She received her B.A. from Wellesley College in 1880. She wrote to supplement her income. "Sleep" was published by The Atlantic Monthly during her undergraduate years at Wellesley.

Bates' teaching career was the central interest of her adult life. She believed that through literature, human values could be revealed and developed.

America the Beautiful

A trip to Colorado in 1893 and the view from Pikes Peak inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the poem, "America the Beautiful," which was published in The Congregationalist two years after she wrote it. The Boston Evening Transcript published a revised version in 1904, and the public adopted the idealistic poem quickly.

Active Involvements

Katharine Lee Bates helped found the New England Poetry Club in 1915 and served for a time as its president, and she was involved in a few social reform activities, working for labor reform and planning the College Settlements Association with Vida Scudder. She was raised in the Congregational faith of her ancestors; as an adult, she was deeply religious but could not find a church in whose faith she could be certain.

Partnership

Katharine Lee Bates lived for twenty-five years with Katharine Coman in a committed partnership that has sometimes been described as a "romantic friendship." Bates wrote, after Coman died, "So much of me died with Katharine Coman that I'm sometimes not quite sure whether I'm alive or not."

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Cornelia Frances Lee, teacher, a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary (later known as Mount Holyoke College)
  • Father: William Bates, Congregational minister, studied at Middlebury College, Vermont, and Andover Theological Seminary, Massachusetts
    • Katharine Lee Bates was the youngest daughter
  • Companion: Katharine Coman (professor at Wellesley, died 1915)
  • Children: none

Education:

  • Wellesley College, A.B. 1880
  • Oxford 1889-90
  • Wellesley, A.M. 1891

Bibliography

  • Sherr, Lynn. America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song. 2001. 
  • Sunshine and Other Verses for Children - 1890
  • America the Beautiful and Other Poems - 1911
  • Retinue and Other Poems - 1918
  • Burgess, D. W. B. - 1952 biography
  • Younger, Barbara. Purple Mountain Majesties: The Story of Katharine Lee Bates and 'America the Beautiful.' Illustrated by Stacey Shuett. Grades 3-5. 
  • America the Beautiful. Illustrated by Neil Waldman. Ages 4-8. 
  • America the Beautiful. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. 
  • America the Beautiful Illustrated by Chris Gall. Grades 1-7.