Katharine Lee Bates

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Katharine Lee Bates

Birthplace: Falmouth, Barnstable, MA, USA
Death: Died in Wellesley, Norfolk, MA, USA
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Bates and Cornelia Frances Bates
Partner of Katharine Coman

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Immediate Family

About Katharine Lee Bates


Katharine Lee Bates (August 12, 1859 – March 28, 1929) was an American songwriter. She is remembered as the author of the words to the anthem "America the Beautiful". She popularized "Mrs. Santa Claus" through her poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride (1889).

Life and career

Bates was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of a Congregational pastor. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1880 and for many years was a professor of English literature at Wellesley. While teaching there, she was elected a member of the newly formed Pi Gamma Mu honor society for the social sciences because of her interest in history and politics, which she had also studied.


Bates was a prolific author of many volumes of poetry, travel books, and children's books. She popularized Mrs. Claus in her poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride from the collection Sunshine and other Verses for Children (1889).

She contributed regularly to periodicals, sometimes under the pseudonym James Lincoln, including Atlantic Monthly, Congregationalist, Boston Evening Transcript, Christian Century, Contemporary Verse, Lippincott's and Delineator.

A lifelong, active Republican, Bates broke with the party to endorse Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis in 1924 because of Republican opposition to American participation in the League of Nations.

Bates never married. In 1910, when a colleague described "free-flying spinsters" as "fringe on the garment of life", Bates answered: "I always thought the fringe had the best of it. I don't think I mind not being woven in."

Bates died in Wellesley, Massachusetts, on March 28, 1929, aged 69, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery at Falmouth.

Relationship with Katharine Coman

Bates lived in Wellesley with Katharine Coman, who was a history and political economy teacher and founder of the Wellesley College school Economics department. The pair lived together for twenty-five years until Coman's death in 1915. In 1922, Bates published Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance, a collection of poems written "to or about my Friend" Katharine Coman, some of which had been published in Coman's lifetime.

Some describe the couple as intimate lesbian partners, citing as an example Bates' 1891 letter to Coman: "It was never very possible to leave Wellesley [for good], because so many love-anchors held me there, and it seemed least of all possible when I had just found the long-desired way to your dearest heart...Of course I want to come to you, very much as I want to come to Heaven." Many contest the use of the term lesbian to describe such a platonic "Boston marriage", typical of many professional women of their time. Writes one: "We cannot say with certainty what sexual connotations these relationships conveyed. We do know that these relationships were deeply intellectual; they fostered verbal and physical expressions of love."

America the Beautiful

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 in 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 Pikes 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 words to her only famous 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. When a version appeared in her collection America the Beautiful, and Other Poems (1912), a reviewer in the New York Times wrote: "we intend no derogation to Miss Katharine Lee Bates when we say that she is a good minor poet."

The hymn has been sung to several tunes, but the familiar one is by Samuel A. Ward (1847–1903), written for his hymn "Materna" (1882).


The Bates family home on Falmouth's Main Street is preserved by the Falmouth Historical Society. There is also a street named in her honor, "Katharine Lee Bates Road" in Falmouth. A plaque marks the site of the home where she lived as an adult on Centre Street in Newton, Massachusetts.

The Katharine Lee Bates Elementary School on Elmwood Road in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the Katharine Lee Bates Elementary School, founded in 1957 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, are named for her.

The Katharine Lee Bates Professorship was established at Wellesley shortly after her death.

Bates was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

Collections of Bates's manuscripts are housed at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College; Falmouth Historical Society; Houghton Library, Harvard University; Wellesley College Archives.



Born at Falmouth, Mass., Aug. 12, 1859. Was educated at Wellesley College, from which she received the degree of A.B., in 1880 and that of A.M. in 1891. She also had the honorary degree of Litt.D. conferred upon her by Middlebury College and by Oberlin. She was continuously in educational work, teaching first at Dana Hall and then in Wellesley College, where she was professor and head of the English Department. Miss Bates spent four years in foreign travel and study and published numerous books in the field of education. Her best-known volumes of verse are: "America the Beautiful", 1911; "Fairy Gold", 1916; and "The Retinue", 1918.

   Bates was born in Falmouth, MA. Sadly, her father, Congregational minister William Bates, passed away a mere month following her birth. Katharine's brothers entered the world of work at an early age to help their mother, Cornelia Frances (Lee) Bates, support the family in William's absence, and to ensure that their sister "Katie" would receive the finest education available. Her intellect and academic potential were evident even in her earliest years.
   The Bates family moved from Falmouth to Wellesley, MA, when Katharine was 12 years old. Bates graduated from Newton High School and Wellesley High School. She then enrolled at the recently founded Wellesley College, where she earned a B.A degree in 1880, and was president of the college's second graduating class.
   She found her calling as a teacher, upon graduating from Wellesley College. Bates taught at Natick High School and at Dana Hall, a preparatory school in Wellesley. In 1885, she became an instructor of English literature at Wellesley College. Following a year of studies at Oxford, Wellesley Collegegranted Bates an M.A. degree, and she became a full professor and was named head of Wellesley College's English Literature Department in 1891, a post she would hold until 1920. She retired in 1925.
   Her teaching demeanor was described by many students and colleagues as serene. Nevertheless, she demanded the highest standards of accuracy and integrity of her students. When intellectually provoked, she could be lured into debate. Her keen mental power, knowledge of the facts, and mastery of the art of badinage tested the limits of anyone foolish enough to try to defeat her in argument. Her intellectual agility stood in clear contrast to her physical nature, which was ungainly, and characterized by very slow movements.
   Bates was a lecturer at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, CO, in the summer of 1893. That year, she wrote the poem "America the Beautiful", which was the fruit of her inspiration, after experiencing the breathtaking view of the countryside from atop nearby Pike's Peak. She rewrote the poem in 1904, and wrote her 3rd and final version in 1913.
   Bates is widely recognized as a writer of poetry, verse, travel books and literary texts. She was also an accomplished Spanish/English translator of texts. Bates dedicated her book Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance, to Katharine Coman. Much of the poetry contained therein, refers to her relationship with Coman. Bates shared many years with her companion, Coman, who was a professor, department chair and dean at Wellesley College. Coman died of cancer in 1915.
   Bates was an active member of numerous and wide ranging humanitarian, academic, and political organizations, including the American Association for Labor Legislation, the Antivivisection Society, the League of Nations and the American Poetry Society, to name but a few.
   Katharine Lee Bates died at her Wellesley home on March 28, 1929 at the age of 70.
   For more information see Dorothy Burgess, Dream and Deed: The Story of Katharine Lee Bates (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952) and the entry on Katharine Lee Bates in Notable American Women : the modern period : a biographical dictionary, edited by Barbara Sicherman, Carol Hurd Green with Ilene Kantrov, Harriette Walker [Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980]
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Katharine Lee Bates's Timeline

August 12, 1859
Falmouth, Barnstable, MA, USA
March 28, 1929
Age 69
Wellesley, Norfolk, MA, USA