Bates, Katherine Lee

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BATES, Katherine Lee

Born 29 August 1859, Falmouth, Massachusetts; died 28 March 1929, Wellesley, Massachusetts

Daughter of William and Cornelia Lee Bates

Katherine Lee Bates, best known for her lyric poem "America the Beautiful," attended Wellesley College and received her A.B. in 1880. After a year's study at Oxford University, she was awarded an A.M. by Wellesley in 1881. After a brief career as a high school teacher, Bates joined the faculty of Wellesley, where she taught until her retirement in 1925. As an educator, she was a significant force in the movement toward liberalizing American pedagogy. In contrast to the philological approach that dominated literary study of the 1880s and 1890s, Bates' approach was based on the assumption that the chief aim of a literature teacher should be "to awaken in the student a genuine love and enthusiasm for the higher forms of prose, and more especially for poetry." She wanted her students to experience literature as dynamic, powerful, and relevant to all people. Her sprightly and anecdotal text, American Literature (1898), widely used as a high school and introductory college text, spread this philosophy, as did her anthology, Old English Ballads (1890), and the many other classics of English and American literature she edited, mostly for student use.

Bates' creative work, produced despite heavy teaching and administrative duties, comprises poetry, verse drama for children, and travel books. Those who defend her poetry describe it as characterized by grace and dignity and in the Longfellow tradition. Her detractors, on the other hand, point out that she shows a good eye for natural phenomena but tends toward a lush expansiveness rather than sparse, tightly controlled use of images and intellectual rigor.

Bates' juvenile fictions—Rose and Thorn, which won first prize in the 1889 juvenile fiction competition sponsored by the Congregational Publishing Society, and Hermit Island (1890)—are moralistic in intent, sentimental in outlook, and realistic in presentation. Though their moralizing makes them unsuited to modern taste, they have good pace and feature young heroes who are both educated and fun-loving, delighting in making puns and deploring them. The structure of the stories is comic romance, as is evident in Bates' tendency to bring about rapid and complete conversions of antagonists in order to provide the necessary happy ending. In her travel books, both for adults and for children, and in her verse dramas for children, as in her fiction, Bates' aim was always to combine instruction and enjoyment. A reviewer of In Sunny Spain (1913), which appeared in the Little Schoolmates series, wrote: "No child can read it without absorbing not only its spirit of patriotism and of gentle courtesy, but a really extraordinary amount of information regarding manners and customs of Spain."

Although Bates thought of herself as a poet and although her poetry was always her greatest love, her teaching and administrative duties kept her from devoting as much time and energy to it as she wished. Thus with the exception of her patriotic lyric, "America the Beautiful," her poetry is unread, and her reputation rests on her achievements as an educator.

Other Works:

The Wedding Day Book (edited by Bates, 1881). The College Beautiful and Other Poems (1887). Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride (1889). Sunshine and Other Verses for Children (1890). English Religious Drama (1893). The Chap Book (ed. by Bates, 1896). Spanish Highways and Byways (1900). English History as Told by English Poets (ed. by Bates and K. Coman, 1902). From Gretna Green to Land's End (1907). The Story of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims (1909). America the Beautiful and Other Poems (1911). Sophie Jewett's The Heart of a Boy (ed. by Bates, 1912). Shakespeare: Selective Bibliography and Biographical Notes (1913). Sophie Jewett's Folk-Ballads of Southern Europe (ed. by Bates, 1913). Fairy Gold (1916). Sigurd Our Golden Collie and Other Comrades of the Road (1919). Yellow Clover (1922). Little Robin Stay-Behind and Other Plays in Verse for Children (1923). America the Dream (1930).


Burgess, D., Dream and Deed (1952). Converse, F., The Story of Wellesley (1915). Converse, F., Wellesley College: A Chronicle (1939).

Other reference:

Boston Transcript (28 March 1929). SR (June 1952).


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