Countryman, Gratia Alta
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 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.
Upon Miss Countryman’s promotion to chief librarian she immediately began to make changes, 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. Of the 11 branch library buildings in Minneapolis, 9 were built during her administration. Miss Countryman was instrumental in local, state, and national library work, and was elected President of the American Library Association from 1933-34 becoming the sixth woman to hold that distinction in the association’s hitherto sixty year history. From 1938 until 1941, Miss Countryman was the head of the newspaper indexing project for the Works Progress Administration at the Minneapolis Public Library.
Gratia Countryman died in Duluth, Minnesota, on July 26, 1953.
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