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America The Beautiful

The lyrics of a treasured unofficial national anthem, "America the Beautiful," were penned by Wellesley graduate Katharine Lee Bates. 

Bates graduated with a BA from Wellesley in 1880. After traveling to England to study at Oxford, she returned to Wellesley in 1891 to join the faculty as a professor of English literature. During the summer of 1893, while teaching a summer program in Colorado, Bates wrote a poem entitled "Pikes Peak" reflecting on her travels. It was the beginning of what would become one of America's most beloved patriotic songs, eventually set to music composed by Episcopalian organist Samuel Ward. Bates became known for her social activism which focused on women, laborers, and other disadvantaged Americans, and she is credited with helping to establish the League of Nations. She was a prolific writer, contributing to major publications including the New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. A true lover of words, she passed away in Wellesley while a friend read poetry to her. Today Wellesley celebrates her legacy by singing America the Beautiful at Convocation, Commencement, and of course, Stepsinging! 

Click on the video to watch students sing "America the Beautiful" at Stepsinging 2011

Click through the slideshow below to view murals in Green Hall's Newhouse Center that were inspired by Bates' song

Excerpt from a 1931 news article describing the new Green Hall in detail.


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 their 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!

In recent decades, Wellesley students have gleefully changed Bates' lyric "and crown thy good with brotherhood", instead shouting "SISTERHOOD!" and "SIBLINGHOOD!" in an effort to include everyone in the Wellesley community.

Katharine Lee Bates '80 with her collie Hamlet during her time as a Professor of English at Wellesley

Read "On the Trail of Katharine Lee Bates" written by Melinda Ponder '66 and delivered to her classmates at their 50th Reunion.

Click here to return to the Stepsinging home page