Above: The Headstone of Katharine Lee Bates
Image Source = Midnightdreary
KATHARINE LEE BATES (AUGUST 12, 1859-MARCH 28, 1929)
U.S. Educator, Poet, and Hymn Writer
The most famous text by Katharine Lee Bates is “America the Beautiful” (1893), which she wrote one evening at Colorado Springs, Colorado, after having reached the top of Pike’s Peak with a group of teachers. One might, however, overlook the condemnation of the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in the second stanza:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
–Quoted in The Hymnal (1941), Evangelical and Reformed Church
There was much more to Bates than her “fugitive verse,” as she referred to it. Our saint came from a Congregationalist family. Her grandfather, the Reverend Joshua Bates, was the President of Middlebury College. Her father, William Bates, was the Congregationalist minister at her native Falmouth, Massachusetts. Young Katharine was a near-sighted bookworm. That formative reality led to a life of reading, writing, and publishing.
Bates had help achieving as much as she did. Arthur, her brother, put her through her undergraduate program at Wellesley College, at great sacrifice. After our saint graduated with her B.A. in 1880, she taught at Natick High School (1880-1881) and worked on her M.A. (Wellesley College, 1881). Next she taught at Dana Hall, a preparatory school for Wellesley College. Bates taught at her alma mater from 1885 to 1925, first as an instructor then, from 1891, as a professor. She became the chair of the English Department after completing studies at Oxford University.
Our saint wrote much prose and verse for children and adults. Her published works included the following:
- The College Beautiful and Other Poems (1887);
- Rose and Thorn (1888);
- Ballad Book (1890);
- Hermit Island (1891);
- English Religious Drama (1893);
- History of American Literature (1898);
- Spanish Highways and Bylaws (1900);
- English History Told By English Poets: A Reader for School Use (1902);
- From Gretna Green to Land’s End: A Literary Journal in England (1907);
- The School of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Re-Told for Children (1909);
- Romantic Legends of Spain (1909), with her mother, Cornelia F. Bates;
- America the Beautiful and Other Poems (1911);
- In Sunny Spain (1913);
- Fairy Gold (1916);
- The Retinue (1918);
- Sigurd (1919);
- Once Upon a Time: A Book of Old-Time Fairy Tales (1921);
- Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance (1922);
- The Pilgrim Ship (1926); and
- America the Dream (1930).
Bates, who retired in 1925, received honorary degrees from Middlebury College (1914), Oberlin College (1916), and Wellesley College (1925).
Our saint, two of whose hymns I have added to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog, did not belong to a church as an adult. Perhaps the fact that her life partner (from 1890 to 1915, when by death they did part) was Katharine Coman. Bates was unconventional for her time; she was merely the person God created her to be. She spent her life on the fringe, which she enjoyed. (I respect that.) Certainly the fact that she left the Church did not indicate that she left God behind.
Bates died at Wellesley, Massachusetts, on March 28, 1929.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 14, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS
THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC
O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.
We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Katharine Lee Bates and all others]
who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.
May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN