The lyric to "America The Beautiful" was written by a Wellesley College English professor named Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote it as a poem that was first published in 1895. At the time, the term "America" was rarely used in reference to the United States (it does not appear in the "The Star-Spangled Banner
"), but over the next few years, when the country claimed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Cuba, Guam and Hawaii as overseas territories, it was much more than a collection of states and better described as an empire known as America. This song helped popularize the term, which Theodore Roosevelt used regularly when he became president in 1901.
To this point, most patriotic songs referred to the United States as "Columbia," which was the female personification of the country ("Hail, Columbia" and "Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean" are examples), and presidents hardly ever referred to "America," although "American" was commonly used as an adjective.
"America The Beautiful" became a song in 1926 when the poem was combined with the music of a hymn written by Samuel Ward called "Materna" for a contest by the National Federation of Music Clubs. It remained the most popular "America" song until Kate Smith recorded Irving Berlin's "God Bless America
" in 1938.