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Gratia Alta Countryman (pronounced gray-sha) Born on November 26 1866, Thanksgiving Day in Hastings Minnesota. Gratia was the daughter of immigrant farmers Alta and Levi Countryman.[1] Gratia died on July 26, 1953 she was a nationally-known librarian who led the Minneapolis Public Library from 1904 to 1936. She pioneered many ways to make the library more accessible and user-friendly to all of the city's residents, regardless of age or economic position.[2]. "Gratia Alta Countryman, was called the "first lady of Minneapolis" and the "Jane Addams of the libraries." [3]

Due to her philosophy of outreach, collections and reading rooms were established in such places as Minneapolis fire halls, factories, hospitals, and an open-air reading area in Gateway Park.[4] Gratia Countryman was a capable leader who, over her 32 years as head librarian, helped increase the library’s scope and reach exponentially. She oversaw the building of 12 branches and a mobile library truck, she and her staff added over 500,000 volumes to the already substantial catalog, the programs she developed encouraged children to read, adolescents and young adults to continue their education, and helped adults find and hold jobs during times of war, recession and depression. Throughout her career Gratia Countryman not only belonged to various civil and social organizations she was also the president and founder of some as well. Gratia never married however in May of 1917 she took in a homeless boy named Wellington Wilson, whom she later was awarded guardianship. This was a bold move for an unmarried woman of the times. Wellington was so happy that he later changed his name to Wellington Countryman. Wellington eventually married and had a daughter whom he named after his adopted mother, Alta Countryman. The Countryman's lived in Chicago Illinois, Wellington died in 1997.

Gratia Countryman's eulogy summed up her life perfectly, "In her youth a library was a sacred precinct for guarding the treasures of thought, to be entered only by the scholar and the student... Her crusading zeal carried the book to every part of her city and county, to the little child, the factory worker, the farmer, the businessman, the hospital patient, the blind and the old."[5]

Important Dates in the life of Gratia Countryman

  • Graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1889 from the University of Minnesota and started work at the Minneapolis public Library under James Kendall Hosmer[6]
  • Was the nation's first female head librarian at the Minneapolis Public Library from 1904-1936 ( It should be noted that when she accepted this job knowing that she would be making a salary one third less than her predecessor at the time, $2000.00 dollars per year) [7]
  • May 1917, Gratia took in a homeless boy Wellington Wilson who later changed his name to Wellington Countryman after she was awarded custody of the child.[8]
  • Established The Minnesota Library Commission and remained recording secretary of that group until 1918[9]
  • From 1912-1914 Gratia organized and was president of the Foreign Policy Association Women's Foundation International League for Peace and Freedom. She also served on the National Liberty and War Service Committee and the Woman's Warfare League [10]
  • 1931 Awarded the Civic Service Honor Medal by the Inter-Racial Service Council of Minneapolis for Outstanding Civic Service for work with immigrants.[11]
  • 1932 Awarded an honorary MA degree from The University of Minnesota for Distinguished Public Service [12]. It should be noted as well that this was the most significant award she received as it was "only the fourth honorary degree conferred by the university and the first received by a woman." [3]
  • 1934 Served as President of the American Library Association[13]
  • Inaugural Address for the ALA in 1934 for Gratia Countryman 1933[14]
  • 1936 Forced into retirement at age 70[3]

Further reading

  • Pejsa, Jane, Gratia Countryman: Her life, her loves, and her library. (Nodin Press, 1995) ISBN 1-931714-66-5
  • Stuhler, Barbara, Krueter, Gretchen, Women of Minnesota selected biographical essays (Minnesota historical Press Society 1998) ISBN 0-87351-367-3
  • Peterson, Penny A, Gratia Countryman, more than an ordinary woman. ( Minneapolis Minnesota :Hess, Roise and Co. 2006
  • Kendall, James Hosmer, Countryman, Gratia, Our Frontispiece [15]
  • Countryman, Gratia, Library Work as a Profession. ( Published by Woman's Occupational Bureau 1930)
  • Countryman, Gratia, Shaw, Robert Macgregor, Shaw, Virginia Buffington , Gratia Countryman's letters to the family twenty three letters written by Gratia Countryman describing a European Bicycle trip in the summer of 1896
  • Countryman, Gratia, Culture and Reform: The Women and the Work of the Women's Club of Minnesota 1907- 1914
  • Countryman, Gratia, The Privilege for Which We Struggled; Leaders of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Minnesota
  • Countryman, Gratia, Traveling Libraries and a First Step in Developing Libraries , ( Boston 1905)
  • Countryman, Gratia, Vocations Open to College Women, ( The University of Minnesota 1913)


  1. ^ GRATIA A. COUNTRYMAN: An Inventory of the Gratia A. Countryman and Family Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society
  2. ^ Benidt, Bruce Weir. The Library Book: Centennial History of the Minneapolis Public Library. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Public Library, 1984. (ISBN 0-9613716-0-9)
  3. ^ a b c Stuhler, Barbara, and Gretchen Krueter. Women of Minnesoat Selected Biographical Essays. Rev ed. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical P, 1998.
  4. ^ Http:// Hennepin County Library. 19 Mar. 2009.
  5. ^ Brandt, Steve. "FYI; A Vote for Countryman." Star Tribune ( Minneapolis MN) (Nov 26, 2000): 01B. Custom Newspapers..Gale. Suny Buffalo State College.13 Feb. 2009. Gale Document Number: CJ67349028
  6. ^ National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume E, 1937-1938
  7. ^ Stuhler, Barbara, Kruter, Stephanie, Women Of Minnesota, Selected Biographical Essays, Minnesota Historical Society Page 178 ISBN 0-87351-367-3
  8. ^ Meir, Peg. "Madame Librarian; The New Minneapolis Public Library could bear the name of Gratia Countryman, its former director. She was a strong professional leader and an unmarried woman who adopted a child- both unusual for women in the early 1920's."Star Tribune ( Minneapolis MN) ( March 1, 2003): 01E. Custom Newspapers.. Gale. Suny Buffalo State College . 13 Feb. 2009 Gale Document Number CJ98237168
  9. ^ People in History Volume 1: A-M An Index to U.S. and Canadian Biographies in History Journals and Dissertations ABC Clio Press ISBN 0-87436-494-9 page 124
  10. ^ American Women 1935-1940 A Composite Biographical Dictionary Volume A-L Gale Research Company 1981 page 194
  11. ^ American Women 1935-1940 A Composite Biographical Dictionary Volume A-L Gale Research Company 1981 page 194
  12. ^ "Gratia Countryman." 1994. Minneapolis Historical Society. 19 Mar. 2009 <>.
  13. ^ Kramer, Amanda. "Gratia Alta Countryman." Library History Timeline. 15 May 2008. 19 Mar. 2009 <>.
  14. ^ Library Journal; October 15, 1992, Vol. 117 Issue 17, pS1, 4p, 2 illustrations
  15. ^ Countryman, Gratia A. Our Frontispiece [James Kendall Hosmer]. Bulletin of Bibliography. 13. 1929. ( Worldcat OCLC 27* Roberts, Kate, Minnesota 150: The People and the Places that Shape Our State ( 2007) 288523)


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