America’s Other Anthem

O beautiful for spacious skies,

"Sea to Shining Sea," by L. Stovall, 2008. Prints and Photographs Division.

“Sea to Shining Sea,” by L. Stovall, 2008. Prints and Photographs Division.

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!

Pikes Peak is one of America’s most famous mountains. Rising more than 14,000 feet, the mountain has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The views from the summit have inspired many, including Katharine Lee Bates, who penned the iconic anthem “America, the Beautiful” following a visit to the top in July 1893.

Bates was an English literature professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and had traveled west to Colorado to teach a summer course. As she told it, “We strangers celebrated the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike’s Peak.”

She and her band of fellow educators traveled to the top by prairie wagons pulled by horses and mules.

“It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind,” Bates later wrote.

She finished the poem before she left Colorado but would not publish it until two years later. Her words appeared in The Congregationalist in commemoration of Independence Day. She went on to revise the poem in 1904 and again in 1913.

Pike's Peak, Colo. 1899. Prints and Photographs Division.

Pike’s Peak, Colo. 1899. Prints and Photographs Division.

Bates’ poem was first set to music in 1904 and was typically sung to almost any popular tune, with “Auld Lang Syne” being the most common. In 1910, her words were published as “America, the Beautiful” and set to the tune we know today, which is by Samuel Augustus Ward, a Newark, N.J., church organist and choirmaster. He originally composed the melody in 1882 (also titled “Materna”) to accompany the words of the 16th century hymn “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem.”

A plaque commemorating the words to the song was placed at the summit of Pikes Peak in 1993.

You can read more about “America, the Beautiful” in a special feature as part of The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America collection. Included are audio recordings and notated music.

The Library’s National Jukebox, an online collection of historical sound recordings from Victor Records, also includes two recordings of “America, the Beautiful.”

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