It’s the birthday of the woman who wrote the lines: “O beautiful for spacious skies, / For amber waves of grain, / For purple mountain majesties / Above the fruited plain!” That’s Katharine Lee Bates, born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod (1859).
Bates graduated from Wellesley College, then became an English professor there. She spent the summer of 1893 teaching at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, and it was there in Colorado that inspiration struck for her most famous poem. She said: “One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes 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.” When she got back to her hotel room, she wrote down the famous opening lines to “America the Beautiful.” It was published two weeks later, and it was first sung to the tune of all sorts of songs, usually to “Auld Lang Syne.” It wasn’t until 1910 that the lyrics were paired with the music we know today, an instrumental piece named “Materna” that had been composed in 1882.