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Gratia Alta Countryman Papers

Identifier: M/A 0038
Gratia Alta Countryman Collection in the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections
Gratia Alta Countryman Collection in the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections

Description of Contents

Ten boxes of materials from 1836-2006, pertaining to the life and work of Gratia Alta Countryman. Included in the collection are four boxes of personal and professional correspondence from 1876-1997. Two boxes of speeches and other writings related to the library profession and the Minneapolis Public Library from 1904-1948, as well as clippings from 1888-2006. One box of photographs, a drawing book, an autograph book, and a Countryman family photograph album. Also in the collection is a box of biographical honoraria, ephemera, and mementos; one box of documents regarding the Countryman legacy and estate; and a memory book created by the staff of Minneapolis Public Library on the occasion of Countryman's retirement.


  • Creation: 1836 - 2006
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1886 - 1925


Access Restrictions

The physical collection is available for use in Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library during the department's open hours. Photographs from this collection are available in the Gratia Alta Countryman Collection in the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections.


Gratia Alta Countryman was born November 29, 1866, in Hastings, Minnesota, the daughter of pioneer parents Levi and Alta Chamberlain Countryman. She received her baccalaureate degree from the University of Minnesota in 1889, intending to become a teacher, but Herbert Putnam encouraged her to apply for a position at the Minneapolis Public Library which was to soon open under his direction. She began as a cataloguer on October 1, 1889, helping to classify 30,000 volumes before the library began circulation, starting a lifelong career with the Minneapolis Public Library. After one year, she was promoted to head of the catalog department, and two years later, in 1892, she was appointed assistant librarian to James K. Hosmer who had then succeeded Putnam. In 1904 she succeeded Hosmer as chief librarian, becoming one of the nation’s first female head librarian. Countryman was chief librarian for over thirty-two years until 1936 when she was required to retire at the age of seventy. She was then made librarian emeritus. From 1938 until 1941, Miss Countryman was the head of the newspaper indexing project for the Works Progress Administration at the Minneapolis Public Library.

Upon Miss Countryman’s promotion to chief librarian, she immediately began expanding the Library’s services to reach more and more people. In the thirty-two years she directed the Library, service expanded into all areas of the city including elementary and junior high schools, hospitals, engine houses, welfare centers, and factories. By the time of Miss Countryman’s retirement, the book collection had increased to 662,842 volumes and the circulation, which was 519,000 in 1904, had increased to 3,293,484 in 1936. The number of registered borrowers had increased from 40,500 in 1904 to 181,582 in 1936. Nine branch libraries were built during her administration. Miss Countryman was instrumental in local, state, and national library work, and was President of the American Library Association from 1933-34 becoming the sixth woman to hold that distinction.

Gratia Countryman died in Duluth, Minnesota, on July 26, 1953. She was survived by her adopted son, Wellington Greenway Countryman.


10 boxes (10 boxes)

Language of Materials


Donor Information

Some of the materials of Gratia Alta Countryman were donated to the James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library at the Hennepin County Library by Mr. Robert Shaw and Mrs. Virginia Buffington Shaw in July of 1997 as accession 1997.01, and a second set of papers was donated by Mr. Robert Shaw in December of 2008.

Gratia Alta Countryman Papers
Kyle Herskovitz, Michele Pollard, and Edward Hathaway
January 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections Repository

Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis MN 55401 U.S.A.