US Stamps

Born Aug. 12: Katharine Lee Bates

May 1, 2021, 5 PM
The 18¢ From Sea to Shining Sea Flag coil from 1981. The lyrics to America the Beautiful were written by Katharine Lee Bates.


By Michael Baadke

Elements of the song America the Beautiful have been featured on various United States stamps, perhaps most notably on three 18¢ definitive stamps issued in panes, coils and booklets on April 24, 1981.

Each stamp is inscribed with a phrase from the patriotic tune, and shows a scene representative of that line. The stamp from the pane of 100 (Scott 1890) reads, “…for amber waves of grain” and shows grain being harvested. The coil stamp (1891) states “…from sea to shining sea" and shows a shoreline and lighthouse. The booklet stamp (1893) features a view of purple mountains, and the words “…for purple mountain majesties.”

Katharine Lee Bates, who was born in Falmouth, Mass., on Aug. 12, 1859, wrote the lyrics to that song, which has at times been proposed as an alternative to the U.S. national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. Although The Star-Spangled Banner was written many years earlier, an early draft of America the Beautiful was written in 1893 and first published with music by Samuel A. Ward in 1910, more than 20 years before The Star-Spangled Banner became the official U.S. national anthem in 1931.

Bates, a college professor, wrote a number of poems during her lifetime and contributed regularly to publications including The Atlantic Monthly and Christian Century. She died at age 69 on March 28, 1929.