Falmouth Historical Society Adds New Bates Award

FALMOUTH – The Falmouth Historical Society has created an award named after Katharine Lee Bates, the community’s iconic, beloved daughter and author of “America the Beautiful.”

The Katharine Lee Bates Historian Award honors educators, authors and chroniclers whose historical scholarship has enriched their communities, their states and their country, the society has announced. It will be presented for the first time on June 8, just before Bates’s 160th birthday.

“This award is more than a tribute to a gifted woman who is near and dear to our hearts,” said Tamsen George, president of the society’s board of directors.

“It is our way of honoring historians at a time when historical scholarship is being undermined because history and other humanities programs are being minimalized by academic institutions.”

William M. Fowler Jr., Ph.D. and distinguished professor of history, emeritus, at Northeastern University in Boston, will be presented the first Bates Historian Award on June 8 at the First Congregational Church on Main Street in Falmouth. That will occur following Fowler’s 11 a.m. presentation about George Washington in the presence of the George Washington Inaugural Bible. Fowler is a former director of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and he has authored a book about Washington.

“It is very difficult to learn from history if it is not being taught or studied,” observed Mark Schmidt, executive director of the 119-year-old society which now functions on Main Street as the Museums on the Green.

“This is one way we are standing up to be counted,” Schmidt added.

The historical society is presenting the program in concert with the Masons’ Marine Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Falmouth which is bringing from New York City the historic Masonic Bible that was used during the first president’s inauguration on April 30, 1789, in New York.

The historian award has been named for Bates who was born on August 12, 1859, and lived in Falmouth for about 12 years. She grew into a prolific writer, scholar, social activist and educator who ultimately became professor of English literature at Wellesley College.

Although she was not a historian in the strict sense of the word, Bates’s poem “America the Beautiful” endures as a part of this nation’s historical and cultural heritage, Schmidt maintained. Her view of the vast, scenic countryside from the top of Colorado’s 14,000-foot Pike’s Peak during the summer of 1893 inspired Bates to pen the poem which was later set to music and is now widely acclaimed as America’s hymn.

Bates, however, remained close to Falmouth. She frequently vacationed on Cape Cod, and she is buried in Falmouth’s Oak Grove Cemetery. A life-size statue of Bates stands beside the village’s public library.

Ironically, she will be remembered again on June 8 in the same Congregational church where her father, William Bates, served as the minister until his death a month after Katharine was born.

By TIM DUNN, CapeCod.com News Center

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