The U.S. Postal Service Releases“O Beautiful” Forever Stamps, Featuring Scenes Inspired by Wellesley Alumna Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”
This Independence Day, the U.S. Postal Service is releasing a series of “O Beautiful” Forever stamps that it says commemorates “the beauty and majesty of the United States through 20 images that correspond with the lyrics of one of the nation’s most beloved songs, ‘America the Beautiful.’” Inspired by the famous verses written by Katharine Lee Bates, Wellesley College class of 1880, the stamps feature photographs that illustrate five of Bates’ iconic phrases: “Spacious Skies,” “Waves of Grain,” “Mountain Majesties,” “The Fruited Plain,” and “Sea to Shining Sea.”
Melinda Ponder ’66, author of a 2017 biography of Bates, Katharine Lee Bates: From Sea to Shining Sea (Windy City Publishers), was hired as a consultant during the design phase of the “O Beautiful” project; she provided explanatory text for the poem. “It was important for me to put the song in the context of [Bates’] life and the events going on in the country at the time,” Ponder said. Bates wrote the poem in 1893 during a scenic 2,000 mile cross-country trip. It was published along with music by Samuel A. Ward in 1910, and has since become the unofficial national anthem we recognize today.
Bates was an English professor at Wellesley from 1885 to 1925, and she made that now-storied trip to teach a summer course in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is where the July 4 first-day-of-issue stamp dedication ceremony for the “O Beautiful” Forever stamps is being held.
Ponder, professor emerita of English at Pine Manor College, travels the country to give talks about Bates, and she said it’s not uncommon for a group to request—even insist—that they sing the song at the end of her presentation. She noted that when she visits a Wellesley College alumnae club, the attendees tend to replace the word “brotherhood” with “sisterhood,” as is the Wellesley tradition.
“It is wonderful to have people reminded of the words, because people love the song,” Ponder said of the lyrics that inspired the commemorative stamps. They also reflect the ideals Bates had in mind at the time she wrote the poem, in particular the ideal of a national community. “I hope [the stamps] will remind people of Katharine’s hope for her country,” Ponder said.