"The tale of Gratia Countryman, 1866-1953лл can well be encapsulated by citing
the eight parts into which this memorable biography is dividedллChild of the Prairie, University
Scholar, Working Girl, Chief Librarian, Single Mother, Benevolent Autocrat,
Librarian Emeritus, and Compleat Woman.
Gratia Countryman became, in 1903, the first woman to run the
Minneapolis Public Library, and one of the first female chief librarians in the
nation. She helped found two women's clubs to build networks and support women
the way the male-only business and social clubs served men. In 1889 she formed
the first women's military drill team at he University of Minnesota when she saw
the new men-only drill team improve the discipline and physical fitness of male
students. This drill team was the precursor of women's physical education at the
university. That same year she broke another barrier, becoming the first woman
to enter the university's elite Pillsbury Prize competition for oratory. In 1932
she was awarded the fourth honorary degree granted by the university, an honor given previously to two male
governors and a male U.S. secretary of state.
And most of us have never heard of her. History, written
mostly by men about men, has largely left this powerful, compassionate woman out
of the story of Minnesota. Until now. ..."
Bruce Benidt, author of The Library
the 100-year history of the Minneapolis Public Library