Annie’s Mailbox: July 4 history lesson |

Annie’s Mailbox: July 4 history lesson

Dear Readers: Happy July 4! Today is a good excuse to enjoy time with your family and friends, fire up the grill, play baseball, bask in the outdoors, visit a veterans hospital, volunteer at a soup kitchen, display the flag, listen to wonderful music and watch the fireworks.

Here’s your history lesson for the day. Did you know that the words to the song “America the Beautiful” were written by Katharine Lee Bates and the music was composed by Samuel A. Ward?

Katharine Lee Bates was an English professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1893, when she was 33 years old, Bates took a train trip to Colorado to teach for the summer. She apparently was inspired by the sights she saw along the way, such as the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (“thine alabaster cities gleam”), the Midwestern wheat fields (“amber fields of grain”) and the beautiful view from Pikes Peak (“purple mountain majesties”). She wrote a poem titled “Pikes Peak,” and it was published in a weekly journal called The Congregationalist on July 4, 1895, with the title changed to “America.” At that time, it was not sung to any particular tune. She revised the words twice (in 1904 and again in 1913).

Samuel A. Ward, a church organist and choirmaster, composed the music in 1882, while he was on the ferry from Coney Island to New York City. He composed the music to go with an existing hymn, “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem,” and he called the new tune, “Materna.” Legend says he wrote down the musical notation on the shirt cuff of his friend Harry Martin so he wouldn’t forget it.

Ward’s music and Bates’ poem were not published together until 1910, and the new combination was titled, “America the Beautiful.” The original version included only four verses.

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