Bates, Katherine Lee


1921 ALS disclaiming that she ever wrote a poem on John Keats:” But the beauty of him!”


Type: Letter
Description: (1859-1929) American author and poet, chiefly remembered for her anthem America the Beautiful, but also for her many books and articles on social reform, on which she was a noted speaker.

Bates had close links with Wellesley College, Massachusetts, from where she graduated with a B.A., and later became a professor of English literature, helping to launch American literature as an academic specialty, and writing one of the first-ever college textbooks on it.

Bates entered Wellesley, a women’s college, as part of its 2nd class in 1876 and graduated with a B.A. in 1880.  She taught 1881-85. In 1889, her young adult novel Rose and Thorn won a prize awarded by the Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society. She popularized the concept of Mrs. (Santa) Claus in her poem “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” from the collection Sunshine and other Verses for Children (1889). The Mrs. Claus character is the chief organizer of Christmas Eve.

She used prize money from Rose and Thorn to travel to England and study at Oxford 1890–91,  then returned to Wellesley as an associate professor in 1891, earned her M.A. there, and was promoted to a full professor of English literature. She contributed regularly to periodicals (sometimes under the pseudonym James Lincoln), incl. The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Evening Transcript, Christian Century, Lippincott’s, and The Delineator.

In 1900, she wrote Spanish Highways and Byways for the New York Times, a travelogue that not only described with beauty and precision the landscapes of a post-war Spain, but also made a commentary on the political and social panorama that she found once the war was over

She retired from Wellesley in 1925 at 66. In retirement, Bates continued to write and to publish poetry, and was in great demand as a writer and speaker. Bates was also a social activist interested in the struggles of women, workers, people of color, tenement residents, immigrants, and poor people. She helped organize the Denison House, a college women’s settlement house, with other women friends and colleagues in 1892. She wrote and spoke extensively about the need for social reform and was an avid advocate for the global peace movement that emerged after World War I. She was especially active in attempts to establish the League of Nations and decried American isolationism.

The first draft of America the Beautiful was hastily jotted down in a notebook during the summer of 1893, which Bates spent teaching English at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Later she remembered: One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pike 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 Congregationalist, a weekly journal, for Independence Day, 1895. The poem reached a wider audience when her revised version was printed in the Boston Evening Transcript on November 19, 1904. Her final expanded version was written in 1913. On November 11, 1918, a battalion of the Army’s 26th Infantry Division (“The Yankee Division”) sang “America the Beautiful” upon hearing the announcement of the Armistice. The hymn has been sung to several tunes, but the familiar one is by Samuel A. Ward (1847–1903), written for his 1882 hymn “Materna”.

Bates Hall dormitory at Wellesley College is named for her. The Katharine Lee Bates Chair in English Composition and Literature was established at Wellesley shortly after her death.

ALS on 8 ½ x 5 ½ Wellesley College/Wellesley, Massachusetts/Department of English Literature letterhead, February 7, 1921, to a Mr. Whicher who asked if Bates had ever written a poem on English poet John Keats. She answers: “Not guilty! Never wrote a poem on Keats in my life. But I am venturing to pass on your letter to my colleague, Prof. Martha Hale Shachford, who has. But the beauty of him!

Martha Hale Shachford (1875-1963) retired in 1943 after 42 years of teaching at Wellesley, from which she was graduated in 1896. Her 1958 book “Talks on Ten Poets,” which marked 60 years of publication by her, was the 150th item in the bibliography of her published work.

Condition: Very good, top left corner edge torn, folds


Product Search

Product categories

Quick Links