Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for "America the Beautiful"

From the She Made History series

by Nancy Churnin ; illustrated by Olga Baumert

Pub Date: April 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-8075-2530-2
Publisher: Whitman

The story behind one of America’s iconic songs.

Katharine Lee Bates grew up in Falmouth, Massachusetts, during the Civil War, so she knew about living in a divided country and experienced the unfairness of being a girl: “The boys she knew grew up to be fishermen or studied to become doctors or lawyers or businessmen. Girls learned to mend and cook.” But she went to Wellesley College, helped to start a settlement house for immigrants, spoke out for world peace and women’s suffrage, and became a college professor. On a train trip across the country in 1893, she marveled at Niagara Falls, the World’s Fair in Chicago, and the endless fields of wheat in Kansas, but she also was aware of the plights of workers in mines, fields, and factories during the economic depression. When she saw grand vistas from the summit of Pikes Peak, she was inspired to write the first lines of a poem expressing her vision of a united nation, a land shared by all. Nowadays, most people singing “America the Beautiful” (melody by composer Samuel A. Ward) have no idea of the political and social context behind the poem Bates wrote. Churnin tells that story in a spare and lively text beautifully complemented by double-page spreads highlighting Baumert’s gorgeous panoramic illustrations. Almost all characters are white. The text of a revised version of the poem concludes the volume.

A handsome volume befitting its subject.

(author’s note, timeline, sources, acknowledgments) (Picture book/biography. 4-8)