Gratia Alta Countryman (top) 1892
An image of Gratia (later director of Minneapolis Public Library and founder of Hennepin County Library) soon after she was hired by Minneapolis Public Library, posing in the library art gallery with fellow MPL staff.
Although she was engaged to marry Horace Winchell he ended up marrying another woman. They remained friends until he died. Gratia later entered into a “Boston Marriage” with librarian Marie Todd from 1902 until Marie’s death in 1940. Gratia wrote this to Marie in 1901, “Thee says in a letter just received that thee is staking everything on the chance of being with me, and I know thee is coming for love’s sake. But not staking, dear, there is no gamble in loving, there are only profits…”
Marie noticed a homeless boy at the library in 1917, Wellington Wilson. He spent many Saturdays and most school days in the children’s area of the downtown library reading books. Gratia looked into his background and realized he needed a foster home and volunteered to be his foster mother. She wrote, “We have taken a homeless little boy to live with us. He is nearly eight years old and bright and affectionate. We have grown very fond of him in the four weeks we have had him…if he turns out to be as nice a child as he seems, I may possibly adopt him.” After his adoption in 1918, Gratia and “Aunt Marie” both raised Wellington. He later wrote,”In those years, my mother was the disciplinarian while Aunt Marie was the arbitrator. One might say my mother performed the masculine role and Aunt Marie the feminine.” Wellington Countryman later married and had a daughter, Alta Marie Countryman in 1939.
This information is drawn from Jane Pejsa’s Gratia Countryman: her life, her loves and her library.