August 12 - 1859: Katharine Lee Bates born

"America the Beautiful" author was born today in Falmouth
A young Katharine Lee Bates.

Thank Falmouth's Katharine Lee Bates for "America the Beautiful"

And today is her birthday

The words all America sang to honor the heroes of Black Tuesday 9-11, were written by a native Cape Codder a century and a half ago.

Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote the poem "America The Beautiful," was born in a house on the Town Green in Falmouth on August 12th, 1859. Her father was the pastor of the Congregational Church right around the corner. This house is impeccably maintained by the Falmouth Historical Society today. Miss Bates moved to Wellesley and graduated from Wellesley College in 1880. She was a professor at the college until 1925.

The following year there was a national movement to adopt her hymn which had been set to music as the national anthem. However, the older, more established "Star-Spangled Banner" won official status on March 3, 1931 when President Herbert Hoover signed a bill making it our anthem. Even today, advocates of the hymn push for official anthem status because it is far easier to sing, and the words mean more to most citizens than the obscure War of 1812 references by Francis Scott Key in his poem "Star-Spangled Banner."

Katharine Bates wrote the poem "America the Beautiful" in its original form after a trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado in the summer of 1913. She wrote a note about her inspiration for the poem years later stating...

"One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pike's Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."

The poem first appeared in print in the church magazine "The Congregationalist" in 1915. Within a few months Silas Pratt set it to music. Today, "America the Beautiful" is almost exclusively sung to the music for Samuel A. Ward's "Materna." After receiving many requests for use in publications and special services, Miss Bates rewrote it and simplified the text. She made one additional change in the wording of the third stanza a few years later to give us the version we know today.

She Wrote a Poem for Falmouth Too

While most Americans remember the words to "America The Beautiful," in fact many more can than are able to correctly sing our national anthem, few realize she so loved Falmouth that she wrote a poem about her hometown as well. Here are the words:

"The Falmouth Bell "

Never was there a lovelier town
Than our Falmouth by the sea.
Tender curves of sky look down
On her grace of knoll and lea.
Sweet her nestled Mayflower blows
Ere from prouder haunts the spring
Yet has brushed the lingering snows
With a violet-colored wing.
Bright the autumn gleams pervade
Cranberry marsh and bushy wold,
Till the children's mirth has made
Millionaires in leaves of gold;
And upon her pleasant ways,
Set with many a gardened home,
Flash through fret of drooping sprar
Visions far of ocean foam.
Happy bell of Paul Revere,
Sounding o'er such blest demesne
While a hundred times a year
Weaves the round from green to green.

Never were there friendlier folk
Than in Falmouth by the sea,
Neighbor-households that invoke
Pride of sailor-pedigree.
Here is princely interchange
Of the gifts of shore and field,
Starred with treasures rare and strange
That the liberal sea-chests yield.
Culture here burns breezy torch
Where gray captains, bronzed of neck
Tread their little length of porch
With a memory of the deck.
Ah, and here the tenderest hearts,
Here where sorrows sorest wring
And the widows shift their parts
Comforted and comforting.

Holy bell of Paul Revere
Calling such to prayer and praise.
While a hundred times the year
Herds her flock of faithful days!
Greetings to thee, ancient bell
Of our Falmouth by the sea!
Answered by the ocean swell,
Ring thy centuried Jubilee!
Like the white sails of the Sound,
Hast thou seen the years drift by,
From the dreamful, dim profound
To a goal beyond the eye.
Long thy maker lieth mute,
Hero of a faded strife;
Thou hast tolled from seed to fruit
Generations three of life.
Still thy mellow voice and clear
Floats o'er land and listening deep,
And we deem our fathers hear
From their shadowy hill of sleep.
Ring thy peals for centuries yet,
Living voice of Paul Revere!
Let the future not forget
That the past accounted dear!

And for those few who don't know the words to her national hymn, here is the original 1913 version:

"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 every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife.
Who more than self the country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every 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!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America ! America !
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man's avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

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
Till nobler men keep once again
"Thy whiter jubilee!


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