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.”

Bringing the “Banner” to Light

(The following is an article written by Mark Hartsell, editor of the Library of Congress staff newsletter, The Gazette, in honor of the Star Spangled Banner, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. To commemorate the anniversary, the Library is hosting a concert featuring baritone Thomas Hampson on July 3.) The story of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for many […]

The Library in History: Library Analyst Helped Launch NASA

(The following is a story written by Cory V. Langley, a communications specialist in the Congressional Research Service, that is featured in the May – June 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, now available for download here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011. Amid fear and anxiety […]

The Power of One: Roy Wilkins and the Civil Rights Movement

(The following is a story written by Mark Hartsell, editor of the Library’s staff newsletter, The Gazette, for the May-June 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine. The Library exhibition, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Long Struggle for Freedom,” opens June 19 in the Thomas Jefferson Building.) Civil Rights activist Roy Wilkins […]

Jewish American Heritage: A Surviving Text

May marks Jewish American Heritage Month, and this year’s theme, designated by the Jewish American Heritage Month Coalition, honors the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). From its founding in 1914 to aid starving Jews in Palestine and Europe during World War I to life-saving rescues during war years to settling […]

The Library in History: The John Adams Building at 75

Seventy-five years ago, the Library opened a second building on Capitol Hill to house its growing collections. With a collection of more than 3.5 million items, former Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam reported to Congress in 1926 that the nearly completed bookstack “will not be likely to take care of the accessions beyond the coming […]

Stay Up With A Good Book

The Library of Congress National Book Festival, as you’ve no doubt heard, is going to a new place in 2014 — the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. — on Saturday, Aug. 30 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. As always, it will be free and open to the public, courtesy of the […]

America At Play

This article, written by Susan Reyburn, writer-editor in the Publishing Office at the Library of Congress, is featured in the March-April 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, now available for download here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.  As major league baseball prepared to […]

Collection Connections: “Twelve Years a Slave”

(The following is a guest post by Cheryl Fox, Library of Congress Archives collection specialist in the Manuscript Division.)  Solomon Northup’s account of his kidnapping in Washington, D.C., sale to a plantation owner in Louisiana and subsequent escape was first published in 1853, the year he regained his freedom. The Library of Congress Rare Book […]