America the Beautiful

“America the Beautiful,” written in 1893 by Wellesley College English Professor and Poet, Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), revised and first published in 1895 and revised again in 1904 and 1911, stands among the classic pieces of American National hymnody. The poem reflects not only the natural grandeur of the United States in the late nineteenth century—from sky to earth, and from sea to another—but it depicts the ideal vision of a poet, writing only three decades removed from the American Civil War, who strived extremely hard to communicate to her readers the necessity to preserve the fundamental principles of her nation: freedom and brotherhood.

The crowning moment for the poem arrived, at some point during World War I, when an unidentified person or group determined to set Katharine Bates’ words to a tune, “Materna,” written by Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903), a now forgotten New Jersey organist, choir director, and music store owner, first published in 1888. Following that “marriage,” “America the Beautiful” then occupied the enviable three-tiered pedestal of poem, patriotic song, and national hymn, and there it remains to this day.


“… by continuing to print upon the pages of our literature anthologies and within the covers of our hymnals; yes and even sing it in the sanctuaries of our churches and in the assembly halls of our schools. The piece is definitely and deservedly remains a classic.” –From the Personal Reflection

Table of Contents

America the Beautiful (1895)

1. The Texts

2. Introduction to the Hymn

3. The Texts as Poetry

4. The Texts as Congregational Hymnody

5. The Final Text in Hymn Book and Hymnal

6. Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929)

7. Katharine Lee Bates: Scholar/Writer, Poet, and Hymnodist

8. The Hymn Tune and Its Composer

9. Personal Reflection

10. List of Works Cited and Consulted