One of the most amusing angles to the conservative outrage at the feel-good Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial in which “American the Beautiful” is sung in foreign tongues (and by a gay couple) is the biography of Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote the song.

It was old news to me, husband of a Wellesley College graduate. But Talking Points Memo, in an article by politics professor Peter Dreier, has the full rundown and it’s good reading. Bates, an English professor at Wellesley, was a lesbian with a longtime female partner, another Wellesley professor, in what was then known as a “Boston marriage.” She was a liberal Republican, when such existed. A socialist. A critic of American imperialism. She spoke up for labor rights, women’s suffrage and the poor. Read the full lyrics of her poem carefully and you can see what she was getting at as she gazed upon the natural majesty of America on a trip to the Rockies:

“America! America! God shed his grace on thee. Till selfish gain no longer stain The banner of the free! ”

Selfish gain seems to be a new national motto. From the report on Bates:

Bates’ circle of reformers and radicals — including union activists, feminists and housing crusaders — were strong advocates for immigrants. Bates and [her partner] Coman volunteered at Denison House, a Boston settlement house that worked to improve the lives of immigrants who lived in Boston’s slums and worked in its sweatshops. Denison House was founded by their Wellesley colleague Vida Scudder, another radical socialist, feminist, and lesbian. It was
modeled on Hull House, founded by Jane Addams in Chicago.

Bates broke with the Republican Party in 1924 to support the Democratic presidential candidate because Republicans opposed the League of Nations.


Rush Limbaugh’s cheers for “America the Beautiful” and jeers for its rendition in foreign tongue? Now you know the rest of the story. Some more history:

And as long as we’re educating the Limbaugh lunatics and other broadcasting bigots about America’s secret radical history, they might also want to know that the “Pledge of Allegiance” also written by a Christian socialist, Francis Bellamy. And that the author of “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie, was a committed radical, that Pete Seeger, the folksinger who popularized the song and even performed it at Obama’s inauguration party, was also a left-winger, and that this patriotic protest song includes a little-known stanza that criticizes the notion of private property!

Coca-Cola has also posted a YouTube about the making of the commercial.