"America the Beautiful" was first published as a poem by Katharine Lee Bates on July 4, 1895. 117 years later, we sing "America the Beautiful" at almost every patriotic event. Bates graduated from Wellesley College in 1880 and returned to teach English at the College. Her words have become some of the most famous lyrics in the United States of America.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
This fourth of July, I propose a change to one of America's most popular songs. If you currently attend Wellesley College or have ever attended any of the College's events where we sing "America the Beautiful", you can probably predict where I'm going. Through these 117 years, informal tradition has been established at Wellesley by changing "crown thy good with brotherhood" to "crown thy good with sisterhood." Sisterhood is shouted with pride and joy as our voices join together to celebrate Wellesley, our alumnae, tradition, and America. I could be incorrect in this assumption but I don't believe Katharine Lee Bates would mind the lyric change.
The change to sisterhood seems pretty obvious to me now but before I attended an all women's college, I cringed at the thought of sisterhood and sisters. I couldn't understand why my friends liked having a sister so much. Every sibling interaction I had encountered ended with squabbles ranging from who got the last slice of pizza to who mom loved more. Fights often ended with mean passive aggressive comments that led to door slamming and angry tears. My own fights with my brother led to punches and screams. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" has to be the biggest lie ever told.
Sisterhood was lost on me until Wellesley. At the most basic, sisterhood is solidarity between women. Sisterhood is joining together to scream at the top of our lungs just because we can. Sisterhood is creating a safe space where we can share our thoughts and learn from one another. This feeling of kinship is the bond that I hope one day might tie all women together. Too often women rip each other apart with hurtful comments and judgments. Words most definitely hurt -- but they can help too. A small change from "brotherhood" to "sisterhood" may inspire women to achieve the sisterhood with others that we can -- sometimes -- find through family and friends. The joy of screaming "crown thy good with sisterhood" should not only be reserved for Wellesley traditions but also shared with all women.
Undoubtedly changing "brotherhood" to "sisterhood" will raise questions. Will men have to sing "sisterhood?" Well, women outside of Wellesley have been singing "brotherhood" for years. Perhaps we can alternate sisterhood and brotherhood every year. Alternating is a simple solution but what is most important is that we are open to change. Together, brothers and sisters, we can move forward to rise above the sitcom level of sisterhood and brotherhood we have all settled for. While maybe we can't "have it all" alone, we may be able to succeed at "having it all" together.
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