Wellesley College is a private women’s school focusing on liberal arts. The well-known college, located in Wellesley, Massachusetts has produced many scholars of business, politics and literary achievements. Katharine Lee Bates, who famously penned America the Beautiful, graduated from the college in 1880. After traveling and enjoying other teaching assignments, she later returned to her alma mater to become an English professor.
Bates spent the summer of 1893 teaching at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. During her stay, she took a side trip with fellow teachers and friends to Pike’s Peak. It is in this picturesque location Bates found inspiration to pen the words to what later became known as America the Beautiful.
The daughter of a Congregational pastor, Bates had an awesome respect for God’s creation and the natural beauty of the land she loved. She was a natural born writer and poet, as the words came quite easily. Her masterpiece was published as a poem for an Independence Day celebration the following year.
Returning to Wellesley, Bates continued to write and teach in the English department. She was in tune with current political happenings and she was a trend setter. Choosing not to marry or have children, Bates found love through her writing and with the company of a special friend. With more in common than their first names, Bates and Katharine Coman became quite close.
Coman was also a professor at Wellesley, heading up the history and economic departments. The pair set up housekeeping and lived together for twenty-five years. They enjoyed a very loving, close relationship as a couple, although they were not specifically labeled in terms as being lesbians. Bates took care of her partner until the very end, when Coman passed away from cancer. Bates was clearly a modern thinker and diverse in nature and attitude.
Over the years since Bates had written the poem, other versions were updated and put to music. Samuel A. Ward wrote the music and it was first combined and performed in 1910. The inspiring song quickly found a place in American history and has been a standard for special events and ceremonies ever since. Bates continued to write throughout her life, composing many poems, children’s stories and contributing to periodicals. She passed away in 1929 at the age of 70.
The use of America the Beautiful by Coca-Cola for their Super-Bowl commercial has sprung controversy. The song was depicted in several languages and sung by many ethnic women who are Americans. If Bates were still alive, the Wellesley grad surely would join in on the banter. Bates stood for equality and women’s rights, as evidenced by her life. She wrote the song for America, the melting pot of all people. Everyone who lives in America, except for Native Americans, are from another country somewhere in their family history.
America was established as a welcoming land to all people. The commercial in question is quite appropriate, when one remembers the values this country was founded on. Diversity is alive and present and is beautifully echoed through this new rendition of America the Beautiful. Many languages are spoken in The United States, with English being the most recognized and accepted by most people for common communication. There is no official language of the U.S.
Consuming a beverage produced by Coca-Cola should be about refreshment, enjoyment and the health benefits or risks of a sugary soda, instead of the political message of their ad. As some are boycotting the company, we are still all free to choose and voice our opinions.
To stand for equality and political correctness and then bash an ad that displays diversity is hypocritical. Wellesley grad, Bates, famously penned America the Beautiful, which we are free to sing in our own tongue as we show respect for the diverse country we live in.
As we ponder this debate, let us remember all citizens from nations around the world and their journeys to freedom. Even the Statue of Liberty welcomes all. As the words from the sonnet written by Emma Lazarus for a fundraiser and placed on the pedestal of the monument say:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Editorial by Roanne FitzGibbon