Register O’Donnell Reflects on “America the Beautiful”

Register O’Donnell Reflects on “America the Beautiful

Dedham, MA — Norfolk County Register of Deeds William P. O’Donnell reflects on one of the United States’ unofficial national anthems, whose author lived, studied, and taught in Norfolk County.

“While most Americans know the United States national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, written by Francis Scott Key and inspired by the resilience of the American flag, which survived the 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry, proving to Key that the Fort had withstood the British onslaught, what many do not know is that there was a very close contender for the United States national anthem that has ties to Norfolk County,” noted Norfolk County Register of Deeds William P. O’Donnell.

As part of the 225th Anniversary Commemoration of Norfolk County in 2018, the Registry of Deeds published its first Notable Land Records booklet, which featured this national anthem contender, Katharine Lee Bates and the story behind the inspiration for the poem “America the Beautiful.”

In the summer of 1893, a group of educators hiked up Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains using a wagon and mules. Reaching the summit, the group exhaustedly looked out from atop the mountain, feeling a sense of accomplishment and awe.

“As Katharine Lee Bates absorbed the breathtaking view and the magnificence of her surroundings, joy overcame her exhaustion. Bates drew inspiration from this experience to write the poem ‘America the Beautiful,’ which would later become one of the most beloved patriotic songs in the United States,” stated register O’Donnell.

“To understand the depth of Bates’ connection and understanding of the natural beauty and complexity of America, it is important to know the person behind the words,” noted register O’Donnell.

Katharine Lee Bates was born in 1859 in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Her father died when she was only a few weeks old, leaving her mother and aunt to raise her. Both being well-educated women who saw the value in a good education, they sent Bates to high school and college.

Bates graduated from Wellesley High School in 1874 and Wellesley College in 1880. She also studied at Oxford from 1890 to 1891. She returned to Wellesley College in 1891 as an associate professor, earned her master’s degree, and became a full professor of English literature.

In 1926, there was a strong effort to make the hymn the national anthem, but President Herbert Hoover picked the “Star-Spangled Banner” instead, amid complaints from some who objected to the choice of a song composed in war over one that speaks to the natural beauty of the country.

“As a testament to the enduring impact of Bates’ words and affection for the song, there are still occasional discussions on whether ‘America the Beautiful,’ known as the ‘unofficial national anthem,’ should become the official national anthem,” O’Donnell concluded. “But I hope we can all agree that the song’s powerful message of unity and admiration for the country will continue to resonate with generations to come, regardless of its official status.”

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds will be closed on Thursday, July 4th in celebration of Independence Day. We are open Friday, July 5th.

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds is closed Today, July 4th in celebration of Independence Day. We are open Friday, July 5th.